Justice Department Announces Reforms In Oversight Of Local Police

September 14, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

At an annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) on Sept. 13, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the results of Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta’s review of the use of monitors in civil settlement agreements and consent decrees with state and local governmental entities.

A total of 19 actions that the department should undertake in order to improve the use of monitors was recommended in a memo. The Attorney General accepted AAG Gupta’s recommendations and ordered them to be made effective immediately. The announcement was praised by law enforcement officials, the New York Times reported.

The remarks come on the back of increased scrutiny of local policing practices by the Justice Department. The investigation of high profile officer-involved shootings often lead to consent decrees, which are court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governments. These are put in place to create a roadmap for training and operational changes. Monitors are then appointed to ensure that these are implemented.

The five principles outlined in AAG Gupta’s memo are:

  • Monitorships should be designed to minimize cost to jurisdictions and avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. 
  • Monitors must be accountable to the court, the parties involved, and the public.
  • Monitors should assess compliance consistently across jurisdictions.
  • Sustained, meaningful engagement with the community is critical to the success of the monitorship.
  • Monitoring must be structured to efficiently move jurisdictions into compliance.

In order to comply with the five principles laid out, the department will have to take certain steps in all monitor agreements.

Future consent decrees will include an annual cap on monitors’ fees to increase transparency and help contain costs. Additionally, there will be no “double-dipping,” so as to dispel any perception that monitoring is a cottage industry. Hence, lead monitors in future consent decrees will no longer be able to serve on more than one monitoring team at a time.

Monitors are to prioritise stakeholder input so that they are able to understand a variety of interests and perspectives of the stakeholders in the process, including impacted communities, law enforcement, and victims of official misconduct.

Specific term limits will be put in place for monitors, which will only be allowed to be extended after judicial evaluation. Effective practices guides, assessment tools, and training materials will be made available to make sure that monitorships are being conducted consistently across jurisdictions.

Further, future consent decrees will have to be reviewed after five years to ensure that monitorships are designed to incentivize monitors and jurisdictions to move towards compliance as efficiently as possible.

“The department has found that – while consent decrees and monitorships are important tools to increase transparency and accountability – [we] can and should do more to improve their efficiency and efficacy,” said AG Garland. “The Associate Attorney General has recommended – and I have accepted – a set of 19 actions that the department will take to address those concerns.”

“Consent decrees have proven to be vital tools in upholding the rule of law and promoting transformational change in the state and local governmental entities where they are used,” said AAG Gupta. “The department must do everything it can to guarantee that they remain so by working to ensure that the monitors who help implement these decrees do so efficiently, consistently and with meaningful input and participation from the communities they serve.”