How city police departments with consent decrees are faring
Fourteen police departments big and small are working under reform agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The agreements known as consent decrees force police officials and mayors to put reforms in place by a set deadline. The deals often are overseen and monitored by a federal judge or another third party.
Here are some of the city police departments across the U.S. with consent decrees or negotiating decrees:
The fatal shootings of seven black men and teenagers within eight months resulted in an agreement between police and the Justice Department in 2016. The investigation found officers were overzealous in use of deadly force, used tactics that sparked confrontations and did a poor job of investigating the shootings. The agreement, which runs through 2020, requires improved training of front-line officers, reduction of tactical squads that tend to be most aggressive and better internal investigations of officer-involved shootings.
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY
Police agreed to make changes in 2016 after a federal investigation found that three-fourths of pedestrian stops were made without constitutionally adequate reasons and often targeted people in high-crime areas. It also said officers routinely used excessive force. The agreement will cost the city roughly $7.5 million and requires more community policing and training on use of force and stops and searches. It also calls for video cameras in all patrol cars and bodycams for most officers.
The 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that killed two unarmed blacks after a high-speed chase in 2012 was one of several instances involving police that led to a consent decree two year later. Among the findings were that officers had hit suspects in the head with their weapons and used stun guns on handcuffed people. Reforms called for a switch to community policing, an overhaul for investigating misconduct allegations and new training in avoiding racial stereotyping and dealing with the mentally ill.
A scathing Justice Department report alleging racial bias and profiling came in the wake of the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old. The consent decree called for a Civilian Review Board to examine allegations of police misconduct. But the board’s first meeting in March came after it missed a deadline to become operational and it’s still not able to accept complaints from citizens. But a federal judge overseeing the agreement said the city is making meaningful progress.
The death of Freddie Gray in police custody led to the Justice Department’s 2016 report that said officers routinely stopped people in black neighborhoods for dubious reasons and arrested residents for speaking in ways police deemed disrespectful. A proposed agreement calls for discouraging arrests for loitering and littering and requiring a supervisor to sign off on taking someone into custody for a minor infraction. The agreement also lays out policies for transporting prisoners like Gray, a black man who suffered a broken neck while riding in a police van.
EAST HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
The city’s federal consent decree in 2012 came after an investigation found a pattern of police discrimination and bias against Hispanic residents who said they were subjected to false arrests, assaults and illegal searches. Four white police officers were convicted. A 2014 federal report said the town had made “remarkable” progress, including reducing the percentage of police motor vehicle stops involving Hispanics. A year later, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch called East Haven a model for improving police-community relations.
An investigation after an officer’s fatal shooting of a Native American woodcarver in 2010 and other questionable uses of force against minorities found officers were too quick to be physical, especially in low-level situations. A settlement in 2012 overhauled the police department’s training and procedures, all aimed at reducing unnecessary uses of force and improving citizens’ trust in officers. Both sides agree the results have been positive. Polling showed residents’ attitudes toward police have improved greatly.
The Justice Department opened civil rights investigations focused on police misconduct in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and then made a separate push to address systemic problems in the police department. That second effort led to the signing of the consent decree in 2012. There’s been a vast revamp of policies and increased use of body and dashboard cameras. Monitors have generally praised the city’s efforts, but they said in January that nearly 60 recent police recruits were accepted despite red flags for “risk factors,” including possible drug use and domestic abuse.
A video showing a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times set off a civil-rights investigation of the police department in December 2015. It concluded, among other things, that officers were way too quick to use excessive force. While the probe was carried out under a Democratic administration, the city must hammer out a reform agreement with a Republican one that hasn’t yet made its policy clear. Legal experts say staff attorneys for both sides likely are laying the groundwork for the formal negotiation stage that should start within a few months.
Associated Press writers Mark Gillispie in Cleveland; Curt Anderson in Miami; Sarah Brumfield in Washington; Gene Johnson in Seattle; Michael Tarm in Chicago; Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; David Porter in Newark, New Jersey; Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri; and Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.