Early Stages of Pattern or Practice Police Misconduct Reform

DOI10.1177/1098611117709268
Date01 September 2017
AuthorJoshua Chanin
Published date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Early Stages of Pattern
or Practice Police
Misconduct Reform:
An Examination of the
Department of Justice’s
Investigation and
Negotiation Processes
Joshua Chanin
1
Abstract
This essay focuses on two significant blind spots in knowledge of the Justice
Department’s (DOJ) pattern or practice police misconduct initiative: (a) DOJ inves-
tigation of alleged systemic police misconduct and (b) the negotiation that defines the
terms of the settlement agreements between the DOJ and jurisdictions found to have
engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful activity. This article will discuss each
stage in some detail, beginning with a description of the relevant federal and state or
local stakeholders involved and the key decisions they face throughout the investi-
gation and negotiation processes. The article goes on to address several points of
criticism, including the ambiguous legal and evidentiary standards underlying the
DOJ’s investigation process and the insularity and opaqueness that characterize
settlement negotiation, while considering how each affects the process of implemen-
tation and the sustainability of the organizational change at issue and the broad goals
of the initiative.
Keywords
police reform, department of justice, consent decree, investigation, negotiation
1
School of Public Affairs, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Joshua Chanin, School of Public Affairs, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego,
CA 92182, USA.
Email: jchanin@mail.sdsu.edu
Police Quarterly
2017, Vol. 20(3) 250–274
!The Author(s) 2017
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DOI: 10.1177/1098611117709268
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Introduction
Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994
charges the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) with identifying and eliminating
‘‘conduct by law enforcement officers... that deprives persons of rights, privil-
eges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the
United States’’ (42 U.S.C. Sec. 14141).
The ‘‘pattern or practice initiative,’’ as it is known, has been positioned as a
means of transforming the most troubled departments in the country into
models of accountable, lawful policing (United States Department of Justice
[U.S. DOJ], 2017a; Walker & Archbold, 2014). Under this authority, the DOJ
has engaged with police departments in Cincinnati (Vela, 2001), Pittsburgh
(Fuocco, 1995), Cleveland (Dewan & Oppel, 2015), and Ferguson, Missouri
(Berman, Horwitz, & Lowrey, 2016), among others facing the aftermath of
controversial police-involved shootings. This process was used to drive reform
of the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rampart scandal (U.S.
DOJ, 2000) and in Missoula, Montana, as allegations of gender bias in the
investigation of sexual assault cases spread through the city’s police department,
county prosecutor’s office, and the University of Montana (U.S. DOJ, 2013,
2017b), to name a few.
Yet, as Professor Alpert et al. note in their introduction to this issue, despite
the vast authority granted to the DOJ and the sizable impact on affected depart-
ments and their constituencies, academic experts have largely overlooked the
matter. Scholars have developed some insight into the challenges departments
face in implementing pattern or practice reforms (Chanin, 2014; Davis, Ortiz,
Henderson, Miller, & Massie, 2002; Walker, 2012) and are beginning to learn
about the extent to which this process generates lasting organizational change
(Bromwich Group, 2016; Chanin, 2015; Davis, Henderson, & Ortiz, 2005; Stone,
Foglesong, & Cole, 2009; Walker, 2012) but want for richer empirical and the-
oretical understanding of the initiative and its enforcement.
With that in mind, this essay focuses on two of the field’s most conspicuous
blind spots: (a) DOJ investigation of alleged systemic police misconduct and (b)
the negotiation that defines the terms of the settlement agreements between the
DOJ and jurisdictions found to have engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful
activity. This article will discuss each stage in some detail, beginning with a
description of the relevant federal and state or local stakeholders involved and
the key decisions they face throughout the investigation and negotiation pro-
cesses. The article goes on to address several points of criticism, including the
ambiguous legal and evidentiary standards underlying the DOJ’s investigation
process and the insularity and opaqueness that characterize settlement negoti-
ation, while considering how each affects the process of implementation and the
sustainability of the organizational change at issue and the broad goals of the
initiative.
Chanin 251

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