The Justice Department will impose new limits on police reform monitors, it announced Monday.
The new restrictions – including budget caps, term limits and training requirements – come as police officials have expressed concerns over monitor payments, which have risen to more than $1 million annually in some cities.
For years, the Justice Department had relied on so-called consent decrees to bring change to police departments accused of abuse, a practice that was all but abandoned during the Trump administration.
Attorney General Merrick Garland this year announced the revival of intervention in troubled police agencies, opening wide-ranging civil rights investigations in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix.
While agencies have largely benefitted from the intervention, the actions often result in costly court-enforced reform agreements.
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“Monitorships should be designed to avoid even the appearance that a monitor is primarily motivated by profit,” a Justice Department memo said. “Repeatedly, many of the stakeholders we interviewed urged the department to do more to dispel the perception that monitoring is becoming a cottage industry, closed to outside voices.”
Future consent decrees, according to the Justice Department, will now include caps on such fees negotiated by the parties and term limits for their tenure in communities.
Consent decrees in cities across the country
William Bratton, a former chief in New York and Los Angeles who helped guide Los Angeles through a 12-year consent decree, has expressed concern about the duration and expense of such agreements.
“I think you have to be careful to make sure these (federal inquiries) don’t become too big, too costly,” Bratton told USA TODAY earlier this year. “You don’t want it to become an industry.”
“What many of these agreements don’t do is provide a measure for success in the relationship between the police department and community,” Bratton said.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement think tank which has closely examined cases of federal intervention in policing, has called the relationship between the monitor and the police agency as one “one of the biggest challenges.”
In Oakland, California, the department has been tethered to an unusual reform agreement for nearly 20 years that has cost the city millions of dollars. Notably, the so-called negotiated settlement agreement was the result of a private lawsuit and had no connection to the Justice Department.
More:As federal oversight of police comes to new cities, Oakland serves as cautionary tale
Yet the community has chafed over similar concerns for the cost and the current monitor who has managed the department’s progress for more than a decade.