Assessment of Consent Decree and Reform Model

Project: Research project

Project Details


Assessment of Consent Decree and Reform Model Evaluating the Impact of US Department of Justice Consent Decrees on Police Departments II Over the last two years, mass protests and demonstrations have erupted in cities across the US, often in the wake of the death of a minority male at the hands of the police (e.g., Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland). As both the 1960s and the last two years demonstrate, citizens beliefs that officers are abusing their authority, or that they are acting in a racially discriminatory manner, can lead to disastrous outcomes, from loss of life and civil disorder to criminal prosecution and large civil judgments. Systematic police misconduct can also lead to lower perceptions of police legitimacy among the community, which may cause residents to be less likely to comply and cooperate with officers, as well as obey the law. The federal government is often called upon to address allegations of widespread police misconduct that violates citizens civil rights. In 1994, Congress passed 42 U.S.C. 14141 which gave the U.S. Attorney General the authority to initiate litigation against a police department to mandate the adoption of structural, policy, and procedural reforms via consent decree when that department has been found to have engaged in a "pattern or practice of conductthat deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States (Simmons, 2008, p. 493). Consent decrees through 14141 have emerged as one of the most important police reform and accountability mechanisms in 21st century policing. Over the last six years, the Civil Rights Division has made significant changes to enhance their police accountability efforts. The changes, based on lessons learned and experiences from the first decade of structural reform litigation, are intended to improve the investigation of pattern or practice violations, and to strengthen the oversight process in order to achieve sustainable reforms in the targeted law enforcement agencies. This 2.0 version of structural reform litigation also includes measures designed to facilitate evaluation of the impact of a consent decree on both the targeted agency and the community that agency serves. Though 14141 consent decrees represents perhaps the most important mechanism for combatting widespread police misconduct, there has been very little empirical research evaluating the effectiveness of police consent decrees, and notably, no research has examined the enhanced 2.0 version. Given the current crisis in policing and the pressure for effective reform (e.g., Presidents Task Force on 21st Century Policing), there is a strong need for an independent, comprehensive evaluation of the Civil Rights Division 2.0 consent decree mechanism. The proposed study would accomplish this goal. Dr. Michael White and his team of researchers at Arizona State University will conduct a thorough review and evaluation of the 2.0 consent decree process during the proposed 18-month study. The study will achieve three overarching goals. First, the study will characterize the 2.0 process in the dozen or so sites where it has been implemented since 2009. The research team will identify the unconstitutional behaviors targeted in 2.0 consent decrees, as well as both the typical package of remedies employed and the metrics or outcomes that are collected as part of the federal oversight. The research team will draw on the body of research in policing, as well as interviews with dozens of experts across a range of relevant disciplines, to offer a broad-based assessment of the 2.0 consent decree process and its potential to generate sustainable reform. Second, the research team will conduct two case studies of the 2.0 consent decree process, in Seattle (WA) and East Haven (CT). The Seattle and East Haven case studies will include an intensive process evaluation describing the full 2.0 process, and a preliminary outcome evaluation that will, to the extent possible, explore the impact of the consent decree on the targeted unconstitutional practice(s), as well as the Seattle and East Haven Police Departments more generally. The process and preliminary impact evaluations will be based on all data from each site possessed by CRT (which will be transferred to the ASU research team), as well as additional quantitative and qualitative data collected by the ASU researchers during site visits to each study department. The objective of the process evaluation will be to tell the entire story, start to finish, that has transpired in each site. The process evaluation will detail the events that led to the preliminary inquiry; it will describe the CRT investigation and the results (e.g., findings letter), as well as the negotiation process leading to the consent decree. The process evaluation will track over time compliance with ordered remedies, and will highlight the organizational change that occurs as a result of the increasing compliance. Key indicators of organizational change include: positive change in training, policy, supervision, accountability mechanisms, data collection and analysis, and community outreach/engagement. For the impact evaluation, the research team will examine all relevant outcomes over time, including: use of force (overall and by type), stop/search/arrest activity, and racial/ethnic composition of those subjected to use of force, stop, search, and arrest (compared to a number of internal and external benchmarks). The analysis plan centers on examining the outcomes over time, either weekly or monthly, and then using sophisticated interrupted time series (ARIMA) or growth curve modeling to rigorously assess whether trends in outcomes are associated with the onset of the consent decree. Research team member Dr. Jessica Saunders (sub-contractor), has expertise in sophisticated quantitative analysis and will lead this component of the study. The core question involves whether the consent decree produced to reductions in the unconstitutional police practices that led to federal oversight through 42 U.S.C. 14141. Last, the broad-based assessment and case studies in Seattle and East Haven will, collectively, allow the ASU research team to articulate an evaluation framework for deeper investigation of 2.0 consent decrees in the future. The centerpiece of the evaluation framework will involve descriptions of the core components for an effective process evaluation that successfully captures the events that transpire in a 2.0 consent decree site, as well as the requisite quantitative and qualitative data that should be captured by the Civil Rights Division to insure that a proper impact evaluation can take place. The end result will be a road map for evaluation of consent decrees, both in real time by the Civil Rights Division as consent decrees begin (and end); and retrospectively by independent researchers, academics, and other interested parties.
Effective start/end date9/1/162/28/18


  • DOJ: Civil Rights Division: $125,545.00


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