National Security

DOJ announces first consent decree with local police department since rescinding Trump-era memo

Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, addresses reporters at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, August 5, 2021 to announce an investigation of the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Dept.
Greg Nash

The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday its first consent decree with a local police department since Attorney General Merrick Garland rescinded a Trump-era memo that limited the use of the court-approved legal agreements.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the department would enter a consent decree with Springfield, Mass., after an investigation into its police department found its narcotics bureau had systemic problems that led officers to use excessive force.

The consent decree requires that all use of force by officers must be reported and scrutinized by supervisors. Specially trained investigators will also make up a new force investigation team to probe severe incidents of use of force.

Once the consent decree is approved by a judge, Clarke said an independent court-appointed monitor will provide updates every six months on the police department’s progress.

“Real and lasting change does not happen fast. Institutional reform is complex and requires unflagging diligence and persistence. Implementing the requirements of this decree in a way that is truly durable will take years, not months. Throughout this process, we are asking the people of Springfield not to waiver in their commitment to reform,” Clarke said in her remarks.

“Residents, police officers, union officials and city officials — we need all of you to work hard, and to work together to make this process successful. You all deserve a police department that is effective and that respects the rights of every person.”

Consent decrees are legal agreements that are approved by courts without litigation, and have been used as a way to reform police departments accused of civil rights violations or other systemic failures.

They were curtailed by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018, who believed the agreements made police departments unjustly hamstrung by civil rights lawyers and “political correctness.”

Garland dropped that Trump-era guidance nearly a year ago, issuing a new memo saying the department “will use all appropriate legal authorities to safeguard civil rights and protect the environment.”

Tags Jeff Sessions Kristen Clarke Merrick Garland police reform

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