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DOJ Consent Decrees: “Some Backsliding” But No Complete Failures, Walker Tells NY Times

With the end of the Obama administration at hand, there has been a flurry of media interest in the question of the impact of Justice Department “Pattern or Practice” investigations of police department and the reforms mandated by consent decrees. According to a January 2017 report by the Civil Rights Division, since 1997, DOJ has opened 69 formal investigations of law enforcement agencies and reached formal settlements (not all consent decrees) with individual departments. How successful have these settlements been in achieving reform? Sam Walker told the New York Times on January 14, 2017 that while there has been some “backsliding” in some departments, there has been no case of a complete failure. He cited the case of Pittsburgh, where a new mayor who was friendly with the police union, immediately fired the reform-minded chief, and the reforms were allowed to fade away. Los Angeles, on the other hand, has remained generally improved as a result of its consent decree.

Read the New York Times story: DOJ NYT Jan2017

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Baltimore Has Running Start on its Consent Decree, Walker Tells Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore police department has a running start on the reforms mandated by the recent DOJ consent decree, Sam Walker told the Baltimore Sun. Walker identified five important areas in the consent decree where the Baltimore police department had already begun to implement the reforms. They include stops, searches, and arrests (p. 11); impartial policing (p. 30); use of force (p. 42); transportation of persons in custody (p. 76); and First Amendment Protected Activities (p. 81). With respect to use of force, for example, the consent decree stated that “BPD has recently implemented improved policies regarding officers’ uses of force, and force reporting.” With regard to stops, the consent decree stated that “BPD has recently implemented revised policies regarding Stops, Searches, Arrests, and Voluntary Police-Community Interactions.” Walker argued that these actions indicate that the Baltimore police department has already made a commitment to reform, and as a consequence will not experience the shock and learning curve that other departments have experienced with a consent decree.

Read the Baltimore Sun story: Balt Consent Decree Jan2017

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Ending Police Violence Begins Long Before Courtroom, Walker Tells PBS

In a story on PBS Newshour on December 4, 2016, Sam Walker explained that ending police violence, including fatal shootings of people, must begin long before law suits ever reach the courts. The chances of getting an indictment and prosecution of a police officer for a fatal shooting has always been very low, he noted. As the PBS story noted, between 2005 and 201, an average of only about five officers a years were prosecuted for manslaughter or murder. The number jumped to 12 in 2015, mainly because of all the public attention following the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, and all of the nationwide protests that followed. That represented 12 out of an estimated 1,000 police fatal shootings that year. The way to end police violence, including all forms of misconduct, is to bring about changes in the estimated 63 million police citizen encounters every year. That an be done by adopting the new reforms of de-escalation, procedural justice, and better officer tactical decision-making so that officers choose tactics that are likely to reduce conflict and the need to use force. Walker cautioned, however, that implementing these reforms will not be easy. Policing is “not going to change overnight.”

Read the PBS story here.

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Police Reform Will Survive Trump Administration – Walker

In a piece published on The Crime Report on November 28, 2015, Sam Walker argues that police reform will survive the in-coming Trump Administration. To be sure, the administration will have a terrible impact on virtually all civil rights issues: voting rights, sex discrimination, reproductive rights, immigration, and others. Police reform, Walker argues, has taken hold among many police chiefs, who recognize that the important new approaches of de-escalation, procedural justice, and training over officer tactical decision-making, make sense and will make their jobs a lot easier (fewer use of force incidents, complaints, lawsuits, etc.). The federal government has little direct impact on local police departments (except for DOJ civil rights investigations and consent decrees, which surely will end). Thus, it is very possible that the reform movement of the last few years will continue.

Read Walker’s Crime Report piece: trumppolicereform

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New DOJ Investigations, Consent Decrees Unlikely – Walker

In a story in the Louisiana Advocate regarding the possibility of a Justice Department investigation of the Baton Rouge police department and a consent decree, Sam Walker commented that it was very unlikely. “The Trump administration is jut not interested in an aggressive approach to police issues,” he commented. He added that “They’re really hostile to civil rights enforcement generally.” This includes voting rights, sex discrimination, the rights of the disabled, and all other civil rights issues. Read the story: batonr-doj-inv

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Walker: Police Tactical Reforms Will Accomplish More Than Prosecutions

In a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune related to the prosecution of the officer in the controversial St. Anthony, MN fatal shooting, Sam Walker commented that prosecutions of police officers are very difficult to obtain, and convictions are even more difficult. Prosecutors work closely with local police and are reluctant to bring criminal charges, he commented. Additionally, judges and juries have deep cultural biases in favor of the police, he explained.

More progress will be made in reducing fatal police shootings through improved policies and training on police tactics that through prosecution, Walker explained. Officer de-escalation of encounters with citizens will lead to fewer uses of force, including those that escalate into the use of deadly force. Procedural justice, where officers treat people with respect and answer their questions, will reduce conflict-filled encounters and, as a consequence reduce officer uses of force. The odds of increasing the number of prosecutions and convictions, by contrast, are very slim at best.

Read the Star-Tribune story: mncrimprosec

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Trump DOJ Will Represent a “Historic Shift” in Public Policy, Says Walker

The advent of a Trump Administration Department of Justice will represent a “historic shift” in public policy, argued Sam Walker in the Baltimore Sun the day after the presidential election. The shift will be particularly evident with regard to federal investigations of police misconduct. Federal investigations of a “pattern or practice” of violations of civil rights were authorized by the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act. The first consent decree involved the Pittsburgh police department in 1997. The administration of President George W. Bush  walked away from police misconduct, bringing no investigations of big city police departments and settling investigations with technical assistance letters, which are not enforceable in a federal court. President-elect Trump and his surrogates have made it clear that they have no interest in addressing police misconduct. Trump has called for more stops and frisks as a means of reducing crime. They have also criticized those who have protested police misconduct. The shift in DOJ civil rights policy under Trump, Walker added, will extend to voting rights, sex discrimination, LGBT rights and all other civil rights issues. Read the Baltimore Sun article: trumpdojbaltsun

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Walker: Police Unions Create a “Culture of Impunity” for Officers

In a September 19, 2016 article on police unions in The New Yorker,  Sam Walker stated that certain police union contract provisions create a “culture of impunity,” meaning the belief that they do not have to answer for their conduct. One of the most common contract provisions in this regard are 48-hour “waiting periods” before an officer can be questioned by a department supervisor about a critical incident (a use of deadly force or a use of excessive force incident, for example). Walker also pointed out that years ago police unions learned they could neutralize mayors by threatening to accuse them of being “soft” on crime. This tactic is usually called “playing the crime card.”

Read The New Yorker article: policeunionsnewyorker

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The Human Costs of Police Misconduct vs. The Costs of Reform

Recent public debates over the costs of police reform, particularly Justice Department consent decrees with seriously troubled departments, have all focuses on the dollar costs. A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that the Settlement Agreement in Oakland, California (the result of a private law suit and not DOJ intervention) has cost $13.6 million over 13 years, not including the costs of new computer technology and body cameras, and new staff positions. (No other city has failed to comply with court-ordered reforms for such a long time, it should be noted.)

Former Oakland police chief Anthony Batts (2009-2011) stated that “It’s outrageous. That’s a lot of money  for a city like Oakland. It could have been spent on Head Start programs.”

Sam Walker replied in the Chronicle that “It’s offensive to this of this just in terms of the dollar cost, because there’s a human and social cost when people are shot and beaten up by the police.” How can you measure the human cost of a life lost because of an unjustified police shooting? How can you measure the cost to the person’s family in terms of pain and suffering? In cases of excessive force, how can you measure the cost of the physical pain and also the indignity inflicted on the person? Police misconduct also has a social cost. Patterns of police misconduct alienate local African American communities.

And to these human and social cost, we should add the enormous payouts in civil suits to the victims of police brutality and shootings in cities where abuse goes uncorrected. In Chicago, for example, taxpayers paid out $210 million between 2012 and 2015, or about $50 million a year. Consider how many Head Start programs, or after school programs that money would have bought

True, Walker has observed on other occasions, court-ordered reforms are expensive. But those costs are more than outweighed by the human and social costs of allowing police misconduct to continue.

Read the San Francisco Chronicle story here: oaklandScandal

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“Digital Revolution” Reshaping Public Attitides Abourt Police Misconduct,” Walker Tells Voice of America

In an interview with Voice of America following the fatal police shootings of African-American men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota, Sam Walker argued that a “digital revolution” is reshaping public attitudes about police misconduct. Before the proliferation of cell phone cameras, many white Americans refused to believe that police misconduct, including shootings and beatings, was as bad as it is. But new new visual evidence of incidents in the two recent shootings provides disturbing evidence that is hard to ignore. The communications revolution really began with the videotape recording of Los Angeles police officers repeatedly beating Rodney King on March 3, 1991. The broadcast of the recording had a profound impact on public awareness of police brutality. Digital cameras have only accelerated the revolution.

Read the Voice of America story: DigitalRevolutionVOA2016

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