The American Ethical Union supports U.S. Department of Justice monitoring of troubled police departments and urges Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to reverse his stated plan to back away from such monitoring, to continue the oversight of departments that have already been monitored, and to monitor additional departments if the need arises.
Attorney General Sessions maintained in his February 28, 2017 statement that stopping the monitoring of the police would lead law enforcement to “make the lives of people in particularly the poor communities, minority communities, live a safer, happier life” and reduce crime, but he ignores the facts that justify the monitoring:
- In Newark, New Jersey – federal investigators found that 75 percent of pedestrian stops had an insufficient constitutional basis. From 2007 through 2012, out of hundreds of civilian complaints about excessive force, just a single complaint―one―was sustained over that period of six years.
- In Seattle – DOJ said “inadequate policies, supervision, discipline and training” resulted in “a pattern or practice of unnecessary or excessive force” that violated the Fourth Amendment.
- In Cleveland – DOJ found that the police force culture promotes an “us-against-them” mentality and that “failure to implement effective and rigorous accountability systems” was the principal reason officers unnecessarily and excessively used deadly force.
- In Baltimore – DOJ identified a widespread pattern of officers stopping and detaining people without reasonable suspicion that they were involved in criminal activity.
- In Ferguson, Missouri – According to the DOJ report, “City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget.”
According to Campaign Zero “Police usually investigate and decide what, if any, consequences their fellow officers should face in cases of police misconduct. Under this system, fewer than 1 in every 12 complaints of police misconduct nationwide results in some kind of disciplinary action against the officer(s) responsible. Communities need an urgent way to ensure police officers are held accountable for police violence.”
Unfortunately, few police departments are willing to accept civilian oversight and most keep a close lid on personnel matters, severely limiting the capacity of communities to ensure that their police officers are acting within the law and protecting the rights of people in the communities they police.
The U.S. Department of Justice can and should work to ensure that police departments protect the rights of the individuals in the communities they police and should institute consequences for those departments that fail to do so.
We call upon the Attorney General of the United States to carry forward the initiatives of the former Attorney General to continue to monitor troubled police departments and to lead the way in helping all police departments protect the rights all people in the communities they police.