The Section works to protect the rights of people who interact with state or local police or sheriffs' departments. If we find that one of these law enforcement agencies systematically deprives people of their rights, we can act.
We use information from a variety of sources to bring our cases, including information from community members. The voice of every member of the community is very important to us. We receive dozens of reports of potential violations each month. We collect this information and it informs our case selection. We may sometimes use it as evidence in an existing case. However, we cannot bring a case based on every report we receive. Nor do we have authority to investigate federal law enforcement agencies. We also cannot assist in individual criminal cases, including wrongful arrest or convictions, appeals or sentencing.
Description of the Laws We Enforce
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, allows us to review the practices of law enforcement agencies that may be violating people's federal rights. If a law enforcement agency receives federal funding, we can also use the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex or national origin by agencies receiving federal funds. We may act if we find a pattern or practice by the law enforcement agency that systemically violates people's rights. Harm to a single person, or isolated action, is usually not enough to show a pattern or practice that violates these laws.
The Section has investigated dozens of law enforcement agencies nationwide. In our investigations, we typically meet with law enforcement officers and other members of the local community. We hire police practice experts to help us review incidents, documents, and agency policies and practices. These experts also help us to develop remedies, and to assess whether corrective steps have fixed the violations of law.
The problems addressed in our cases include use of excessive force; unlawful stops, searches, or arrests; and discriminatory policing. We have looked at bias based on race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and sexual-orientation. We have also addressed unlawful responses to individuals who observe, record, or object to police actions.
Results of Our Work
Our settlements and court orders frequently require:
- increased transparency and data collection
- community-police partnerships
- steps to prevent discriminatory policing
- independent oversight
- improved investigation and review of uses of force
- more effective training and supervision of officers
The reforms we obtain create models for effective and constitutional policing nationwide. They provide significant, systemic relief, increase community confidence in law enforcement, and improve officer and agency accountability.
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