The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Long Road to Justice: The Civil Rights Division at 50

Prosecute Police Misconduct and Hate Crimes

In 1994, Congress passed 42 U.S.C. 14141, the police misconduct provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The provision authorizes the Attorney General to file lawsuits to reform police departments engaging in a pattern or practice of violating citizens' federal rights. The Division also enforces the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which together prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin by police departments receiving federal funds.

Starting in the late 1990s, the Special Litigation Section began to conduct investigations and implement consent decrees and settlement agreements where evidence demonstrated a violation of the police misconduct statutes. The investigations addressed such systemic problems as excessive force, false arrest, retaliation against persons alleging misconduct, and discriminatory harassment, stops, searches, and arrests. The decrees require the police departments to implement widespread reforms, including training, supervising, and disciplining officers, as well as implementing systems to receive, investigate, and respond to civilian complaints of misconduct. The decrees have had a widespread impact and are being used as models by other police departments. The Section has also used its authority under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) to reform restraint practices in adult prisons and jails and to obtain systemic relief in juvenile correctional facilities.

In recent years, however, the Section has retreated in its enforcement of these important statutes. This rollback has resulted in less accountability on the part of police agencies and a retreat in efforts to ensure that law enforcement and integrity go hand in hand. Given the lack of enforcement of these statutes by the Department of Justice, it is more important than ever to amend 42 U.S.C. 14141 to allow for a private right of action to enforce the statute. In addition, the Department needs to support an expansion of its authority, as outlined in the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). ERPA builds on the guidance issued by the Department of Justice in June 2003, which bans federal law enforcement officials from engaging in racial profiling. It would apply this prohibition to state and local law enforcement, close the loopholes to its application, include a mechanism to enforce the new policy, require data collection to monitor government progress toward eliminating profiling, and provide best practice incentive grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to enable them to use federal funds to bring their departments into compliance with the bill. The Justice Department guidance was a good first step, but ERPA is necessary to "end racial profiling in America," as President Bush pledged to do.

Moreover, while the Civil Rights Division has committed to vigorously enforcing the federal hate crimes statute, the statute itself is flawed. To strengthen its effectiveness, unnecessary obstacles to federal prosecution must be removed and authority must be provided for federal involvement in a wider category of bias motivated crimes. For instance, we have seen a rise in recent years in the number of hate crimes perpetrated due to discrimination based on sexual orientation. To enhance the federal response to this growing crisis, the Civil Rights Division must have the authority to prosecute all violent crimes based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Expanding the authority needed to prosecute such cases is critical to protecting members of these groups from this most egregious form of discrimination.

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