by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
On Thursday, Jan. 12, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) entered into a consent decree whereby the BPD agreed to stipulated changes in the ways that it conducts policing in the city, specifically in communities of color. In August of 2016 the DOJ had released the results of its investigation into the BPD where it found that the BPD “engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution as well as federal anti-discrimination laws. BPD makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.”
The following day, on Friday, Jan. 13, the DOJ announced the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department (CPD) where it found that the CPD “engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.” The DOJ and the city of Chicago “have signed an agreement in principle to work together, with community input, to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the investigation.”
The DOJ has investigated over two dozen law enforcement agencies during the Obama administration and has entered into consent decrees with many of these departments after investigations typically revealed agency-wide deficiencies in training, supervision and internal investigative oversight. Most often the DOJ investigations found “pattern and practice” violations of constitutional, civil rights and civil liberties protections, as well as widespread instances of excessive force and unlawful stops, searches and arrests, most often in communities of color. Police departments in Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh and Detroit have been under federal oversight in recent years, as well as in Albuquerque and Cleveland.