from the things-they-know-but-choose-to-ignore dept
Apologies to everyone in America. The Department of Justice can't fix what's wrong with the nation's police departments. It's up to those departments to make the changes and stick to them. There has to be a desire to change, otherwise all we'll end up with is better documentation of police misconduct and excessive force.
A police department has to fall pretty far before the DOJ is willing to step in. Consent agreements follow reports -- all of which can be described as "scathing". These follow DOJ investigations in which it's routinely discovered the officers employed by the police department either don't know the first thing about constitutionally-compliant policing… or just don't care.
Reason's Scott Shackford has read through the DOJ's consent agreement [PDF] with the Baltimore PD -- one that follows its extensive investigation/scathing report. In amongst all the new reporting requirements are passages that indicate Baltimore might be better off firing its entire force and hiring new recruits. The rot growing from within the department has destroyed everything, starting with the Constitution and working its way down to basic communications skills.
It's completely depressing that all of this is included in the consent decree.
The agreement includes things like requiring police officers have reasonable suspicion to detain and search people, and not engage in warrantless searches; only arrest people for suspicions of crimes (no really, this is explained); stop using "boilerplate" language in reports to explain reasons behind stops and searches; not engage in racial profiling; not use information they know is not true to justify searches or arrests; attempt to de-escalate encounters before using force; not use force to punish people for resisting or attempting to flee (what the rest of us refer to as "police brutality"); don't use Tasers on elderly people, pregnant women, and small children, or just to stop people from fleeing; use seatbelts or restraining devices on people being transported (remember this is all partly due to the Freddie Gray case); respect the rights of citizens to both criticize police and observe and record public police behavior without retaliation; not retaliate against people who file complaints against police conduct; and so many, many, many other things. A read through the consent decree feels like the documentation of how most citizens expect their police to behave already.
These are the things Baltimore's police must be told to do, under the color of law and with the threat of federal sanctions backing it up. This is all stuff officers already should know -- things they should have learned on their way to earning the right to be trusted with badges, guns, and power.
And in the middle of all the constitutional instructions, there's a whole lot of common sense -- like not retaliating in response to complaints. Or not tasing pregnant women, children, or the elderly. To be told this would be a slap in the face to a good police officer. When the department's full of "bad apples," however, basic instructions and handholding are apparently a necessity. The DOJ has to remind an entire law enforcement agency that they're public servants, rather than uniformed thugs.
A consent decree will follow the investigation that just wrapped up in Chicago -- and a report that may secure the Chicago PD the "Worst Cops in America" trophy it's apparently been trying to earn for the last couple of decades, if not longer. In it will be reminders that officers aren't allowed to haul suspects off to ad hoc "black sites" or use deadly force on people who don't pose a threat to officers or other citizens.
And in another decade or two, the DOJ will roll back into town and start the process all over again. There are very few officials willing to do the difficult, unpleasant work of changing law enforcement culture by rooting out those who have either engaged actively in the rotting process or stood idly by while it happened.