Are DOJ investigations into city police departments necessary?

The United States Department of Justice may walk away from their investigations into city police departments.

The DOJ has been looking into concerns like excessive force and racial bias at departments around the country, including Austin.

Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked a judge to postpone a hearing regarding an overhaul of the Baltimore Police Department. A federal judge denied the request to postpone that hearing

Sessions reportedly directed the Justice Department to review agreements to overhaul police departments saying he wanted to see if an aggressive crime-fighting approach could hurt police efforts to fight violent crime.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has the authority to investigate whether police departments have a pattern of excessive force and racial bias.

The DOJ opened more than 20 investigations into city police departments during the Obama administration.

“I think it's been very positive. We look at the oversight by the previous administration in places like Albuquerque, Seattle, Cleveland, now Columbus, it's been a good thing,” said Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder.  

In Seattle the DOJ's recommendations were seen as positive as they resulted in more officer training and improved relations between the community and police. However, in New Orleans, critics said a consent decree cost the city millions and recommendations took officers off patrol to complete paperwork.
If Sessions has the DOJ back off of such investigations, would it be detrimental to police relations?

“I think it could have a negative impact as far as lack of oversight, enforcement, but I do think now that around the country we're going to see that a lot of cities have taken notice about what was going down with those issues and put things in place to have more communication,” Linder said.

“I think there are departments around the nation that probably should have federal oversight over them due to the problems they've had and the lack of response from those departments to those communities,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.

The Austin Police Department has been the subject of a federal investigation in the past.

“When the feds speak, people listen. They gave Austin 106 recommendations and those were great recommendations and it made them better,” said Linder. 

“We took the recommendations that they gave us, back when Chief Acevedo was here, we implemented almost everything they recommended. To me, that's been a success, but, in my opinion, there are some departments around this country that probably need federal oversight, but I don't think Austin's one of them,” Casaday said. 

When APD implemented federal recommendations Casaday said it made for a safer environment for officers and the community, but he said it wasn't all positive either.

“You know, after we adopted those suggestions, I think you saw a downturn in proactive policing in the last few years in the way the environment's been in the country,” said Casaday. 

Linder said if the DOJ bows out of such investigations there is another way to keep police departments accountable.

“These policies can also come from the local government. Oftentimes they don't, so if local governments can get involved as well and ask for best practices, then we can stop all this federal intervention, but the bottom line is, normally it's necessary and useful,” Linder said.

Sessions has voiced skepticism of federal investigations into city police departments before, saying he worries good officers and departments could get caught up in federal lawsuits because of one bad incident.

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