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First “pattern and practice” investigation ordered by the Biden administration
April 24, 2021 - 11:31 am

On April 16, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department. The investigation will focus on patterns and practices of policing, not on an individual case.

This is the first “pattern and practice” investigation ordered by the Biden administration. Garland also revoked the Trump administration’s near-ban of these investigations.

The DOJ press release announcing the investigation said in part:

“The investigation will assess all types of force used by MPD officers, including uses of force involving individuals with behavioral health disabilities and uses of force against individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment. The investigation will also assess whether MPD engages in discriminatory policing. As part of the investigation the Justice Department will conduct a comprehensive review of MPD policies, training and supervision. The department will also examine MPD’s systems of accountability, including complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition and discipline. The Department of Justice will also reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with MPD.

“’The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests,’ said Attorney General Garland. ‘Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.’…”

Pattern and practice investigations usually take more than a year. They begin with meetings with law enforcement, political leadership, and community groups. Investigations include review of supervision procedures, police training, and complaint processes. Heavy-duty data analysis includes arrest reports, disciplinary records, and complaints. Investigators interview victims and community members as well as past and present police officials.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) describes pattern and practice investigation as “a comprehensive analysis of the policies and practices of policing in a particular community.” That could include use of force, stops, searches, arrests, and charges. The focus is on racial discrimination and other violations of civil rights.

If the DOJ finds systemic police misconduct, it issues public findings. Then it tries to negotiate a reform agreement. That usually means a “consent decree.”

The consent decree sets out institutional reforms that must be made. The decree allows a federal court to oversee those changes. The court appoints a monitoring team to assist. Oversight usually lasts several years.

Congress passed the law authorizing pattern and practice investigations in 1994. That was after the 1991 Rodney King beating. A California criminal court acquitted the police who beat him in 1991. Two of the officers were later convicted on federal civil rights charges. The law—42 USC 14141—allows investigation of “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers.”

The first pattern and practice investigation began in April 1996. It focused on the Pittsburgh Police Bureau. In January 1997, the DOJ “identified a pattern or practice of excessive force; unlawful stops, searches and arrests.” In April 1997, the DOJ and the city entered into a consent decree. Court supervision lasted until September 2002. Additional monitoring continued into 2005.

That’s a lot of time and resources for a single investigation in a single city. While each investigation is different, all take years to complete. After the investigation is complete, arriving at an agreement takes more time. If no agreement is reached, the Department of Justice can sue to enforce changes. If an agreement is reached, supervision and monitoring follow, usually for several years.

Since 1994, 70 pattern and practice investigations have been conducted. Out of these, 41 ended in consent decrees or other agreements for police department reforms.

Source: Spokesman Reader

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