Washington, DC – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told a virtual conference of the International Association of Police Chiefs (IAPC) on Monday that he was launching new rules governing the monitors charged with overseeing police reforms in specific jurisdictions.
Garland quickly established himself as an aggressive enforcer of police reforms after he was appointed by President Joe Biden and has launched “pattern or practice” investigations so far in the Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Louisville police departments, The Washington Post reported.
The attorney general said the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had completed a four-month review of the monitoring teams who were being assigned to oversee changes at local levels and assessed the effectiveness and what they were costing the local jurisdictions.
Monitoring teams have typically billed local taxpayers between $1 million and $2 million annually, and some monitors have served on teams in more than one city at the same time, The Washington Post reported.
He said there have been concerns about conflict of interest in those cases. If monitors draw out the process for longer, they get paid more money.
“It is also no secret that the monitorships associated with some of those settlements have led to frustrations and concerns within the law enforcement community. We hear you, and we take those concerns seriously,” Garland told the police chiefs at the virtual conference.
The attorney general said that going forward, “monitors must be incentivized to efficiently bring consent decrees to an end. Change takes time, but a consent decree cannot last forever,” The Washington Post reported.
Federal consent decrees have been widely criticized as expensive and ineffective in the past.
The new rules – crafted by U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and released in a nine-page document – said that going forward, monitoring teams would be given term limits before they were hired and would be subject to periodic performance reviews conducted by the federal judge in charge of the settlement, The Washington Post reported.
The judge could make changes to the arrangements if they weren’t satisfied with the progress, according to the DOJ.
The memo said that in order for the monitor to continue after the term limit was up, the judge would have to reappoint them, The Washington Post reported.
Garland announced the new monitors would have to meet federal standards before they were hired, and then undergo training once they were selected.
Under the new rules, monitors would be prohibited from serving as the principal monitor in more than one jurisdiction at a time, The Washington Post reported.
Officials said that under the new structure, the judge would hold a termination hearing to determine if federal oversight could be ended at the five-year mark.
The new rules also give DOJ and the judge the opportunity reduce the scope of the consent decrees to make them less onerous when departments start to show progress, The Washington Post reported.
Garland said DOJ wanted to show police departments that had made progress that their efforts were recognized in order to incentivize them further.
Several law enforcement groups reacted positively to the announced changes, The Washington Post reported.
“Pattern or practice investigations are serious business, and if the Justice Department conducts such an investigation and finds areas that require remedy, then it’s critically important that the remedy is effectively administered,” National Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director James Pasco said. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case over the years, in every instance. These changes go a long way in improving the manner in which public safety is enhanced in cities large and small.”
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said his organization had lobbied for almost 20 years to require more oversight of federal monitors, The Washington Post reported.
“This memo addresses many, if not all, of the major concerns we have had,” Wexler said. “This will help restore credibility into this process.”