Police reviews help fight crime, Biden administration official says
WASHINGTON – Federal reviews of local police services bolster the fight against violent crime, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said, countering criticism from some officers who say the national outcry over police conduct is already sapping morale at the time as departments across the United States see increasing gun violence.
The Department of Justice’s extensive civil rights investigations aim to eliminate patterns of unconstitutional conduct such as excessive force or racial discrimination. They can result in a legal settlement known as a consent decree requiring a police department to make changes overseen by a court-appointed monitor.
Critics of federal investigations, including some police officers and their unions, say they can make officers less proactive, leading to more crime, especially when officers are already on edge over nationwide protests. last year on the murders of George Floyd and other black Americans by the police.
“Our ability to tackle violent crime and keep communities safe is intrinsically linked to the ability of law enforcement to have the trust of the communities they serve,” said Ms. Ministry of Justice. “When people trust law enforcement and recognize their legitimate authority to enforce the law, that’s when we can actually do the most effective violence prevention work. “
His comments come as the Justice Department and local law enforcement forecast an increase in violence this summer. Shootings and homicides in most major US cities are on the rise again this year after soaring in 2020. Police are stepping up patrols and implementing other tactics to avoid a wave of crime as the mitigation of the pandemic prompts more people to venture into public spaces.
In a Wednesday memo, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco ordered U.S. lawyers to revise violent crime strategies to more specifically foster engagement with a range of people and provide more support for crime programs. prevention of violence.
The Department of Justice last month launched federal investigations into the models or practices of the Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky police departments. Mr. Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest. Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville Police in a botched drug raid on her home. The two murders sparked protests and bipartisan calls for change. Both cities have seen a significant increase in gun violence in recent months, with Minneapolis police officials reporting at least 32 homicides so far this year, more than double the number in the same period. in 2020.
Justice Ministry officials said they plan to open more such investigations. Ms. Gupta said previous agreements reduced the use of force by police without contributing to crime. She said unconstitutional police tactics are counterproductive because they alienate witnesses, victims and others, making crime resolution and prevention more difficult.
Ms Gupta pointed to a 2017 report from the Monitor overseeing a consent decree in Seattle that showed a 60% drop in the use of force by officers from the rate when the Department of Justice investigation began in 2011, while crime has not increased, the report says. Consent decree monitors in Cleveland and Baltimore have sometimes shown similar results, Ms. Gupta said.
Officers are already initiating fewer drug-related traffic stops and arrests for fear they will be filmed and publicly criticized, said Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, a law enforcement union. While this police service has not been investigated for patterns or practices, he said, increased federal scrutiny could undermine officers’ morale and discourage them from pursuing investigations that could lead to a confrontation.
“Officers don’t want to be put in this situation where they might have to make a life or death decision,” Mata said. “Even if they’re absolutely right, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Ms. Gupta said some consent decrees provided for support for officer welfare and mental health.
“The purpose of our engagement through model or practice investigations is also to boost morale by building confidence in community policing,” she said.
Ms. Gupta was the head of the department’s civil rights division during the Obama administration, which launched about two dozen model or practice investigations, concluding consent decrees with local agencies in 14 of them. they. Justice Department officials during President Trump’s tenure have opened only one investigation, viewing the practice as at odds with that administration’s priorities of tackling gangs and gun crime.
Former Attorney General William Barr, a critic of consent decrees, has often cited a 2020 study by Harvard economists that found that investigations into patterns or practices launched after high-profile police killings were accompanied by a significant reduction in agent interactions with citizens, contributing to hundreds of additional homicides and criminal crimes in Baltimore; Cincinnati; Chicago; Riverside, California; and Ferguson, Mo. The study found that investigations following police killings which has not received as much attention on average has led to a reduction in homicides. Critics of the study point out that it focused on the impact of the announcement of federal inquiries rather than their long-term results.
Few studies have examined the long-term impacts of these surveys and the resulting consent decrees on crime rates, which are driven by many factors, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington think tank.
“This is a complicated question that does not lend itself to a quick analysis,” Wexler said.
Some cities have seen a drop in crime years after the Justice Department’s investigations began, he said, after officials had time to create new policies, train officers on their own. subject and put in place accountability measures.
“During this time, there is a certain degree of uncertainty as to how officers can act,” Wexler said. As they become more confident in their interactions with the public, “you are constitutional policing and are also able to do proactive policing effectively.”
Newark, NJ, Director of Public Safety Brian O’Hara, said it was his department’s experience after a consent decree in that town, where officers initially resisted new requirements that they wear body cameras and reported when they unfastened their weapons, in part due to concerns for their safety.
“That’s what people told me, that the cops are going to be afraid to act. They’re going to have the cameras on. They will hesitate. They will be afraid to draw their guns. And you’re literally going to have a cop funeral for this thing, ”he said. Instead, he said, officers have grown to appreciate the cameras because they often exonerate them after citizen complaints and “love the extra training because they didn’t get it at all before.”
The surveys are just one tool the Justice Department plans to use to promote changes in local policing, Ms. Gupta said, citing grants, training and other programs.
Mr. Floyd’s murder “sparked a whole renewed conversation about how to build community policing confidence, tackle racial discrimination in policing, make sure law enforcement has the backing. that they need to do their jobs, ”she said. “But also the extent to which we have put so many social problems at the feet of the police and demanded that the police be sort of the solution of choice for a whole bunch of problems.”
Crime and Justice
More WSJ legal and law enforcement coverage, selected by editors
Write to Sadie Gurman at [email protected]
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8