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The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section has authority, under 42 U.S.C. 14141, to review the practices of law enforcement agencies that may be violating people's federal rights. If, after review, the Attorney General has reasonable cause to believe that a pattern or practice of violations has occurred, civil action may be taken against an agency to eliminate the pattern or practice.

Common areas of focus for consent decrees are the use and reporting of force; supervision and management; hiring and training practices; and equal treatment. Consent decrees are not, however, an intervention reserved solely for large agencies. Small- and Mid-sized law enforcement agencies can and have been the subject of consent decrees.

Some State Attorney Generals have been granted authority to probe law enforcement agencies, resulting in state-level consent decrees. Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Illinois have all recently been given this authority, along with California, which has done so for many years.

If an agency finds itself the subject of a DOJ inquiry, the best course of action is full cooperation and provide as much documentation as possible to demonstrate there is not a pattern or practice of misconduct.

A good way to avoid coming under a consent decree is to study the ones that are being imposed on other agencies and implement those changes in your own organization if needed. Additionally, communicate with your community stakeholders to identify areas where there are criticisms, and find out why those criticisms exist and how you can improve. If an agency understands where they are susceptible to risk, they can take proactive measures to implement change.

Risk, in the context of law enforcement, is anything that could negatively impact public trust, rising crime, officer and professional staff safety, and wellbeing, or anything that could compromise an organization's goals, objectives, strategic plan, or values. Management of those risks requires leadership to ensure the appropriate policies, practices, training, resources, tools, and funding are in place to avoid risk and achieve the organizational goals.

Data collection is an important strategy to not only combat assertions of a pattern or practice of misconduct but also to transparently identify successes or shortcomings of your organizational objectives.

Reference Links

Chris Sansone
Director, Strategic
@ Truleo
Chris Bolton
Oakland PD
Deputy Chief
Chris Moore
San Jose PD Chief (Ret.) 
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