2005.06.23 > For Immediate Release
contact: Tim Kaldahl - University Affairs
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UNO Report Says Pattern or Practice Suits an Effective Police Reform Tool
Omaha - Pattern or practice lawsuits requiring major reforms are an effective tool for achieving police accountability, according to a report released today by the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Police Professionalism Initiative (PPI).
The report is the Executive Summary of a Conference on Police Pattern or Practice Litigation, held on February 10-11, 2005, and co-sponsored by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the UNO PPI.
The 1994 Violent Crime Control Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to bring pattern or practice suits against law enforcement agencies where there is systematic abuse of citizen rights. Under the law, the Justice Department has sued the police departments in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Detroit, the New Jersey State Police and 12 other law enforcement agencies.
Pattern or practice suits are typically settled with a consent decree or memorandum of understanding requiring major reforms in the law enforcement agencies. The reforms generally include an improved use of force reporting system, an early intervention system to identify officers with performance problems (often called "early warning" systems), and improvements in the citizen complaint process.
The conference found that the 1997 consent decree in Pittsburgh, Pa., had produced significant improvements in the quality of police service delivered to the public. Conference participants agreed that the leadership from Chief of Police Robert McNeilly was the crucial factor in the success of the consent decree.
Conference participants also agreed implementing a consent decree involved difficult challenges related to organizational change. One conference presentation described in detail the implementation plan that helped to achieve reforms in the Washington, D.C., Police Department.
The conference report also notes that law enforcement agencies have the capacity and the responsibility to implement needed reforms without being sued by the Justice Department.
"The best practices in police accountability are well known," said Sam Walker, a UNO criminal justice professor and PPI coordinator. "A police chief today just needs to reach out and learn from departments that are already in the lead on this."
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