June 08, 2021

Warren, Strickland & Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Investigate and Hold Police Officers and Departments Accountable for Discriminatory Practices

Bill Text | One-Pager

Washington, DC - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.-10) reintroduced the Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act to strengthen the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ's) and state governments' ability to investigate police departments with a pattern or practice of unconstitutional and discriminatory behavior.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

During the Obama administration, DOJ used its authority to investigate police departments with a track record of unconstitutional policing and hold them accountable by entering into consent decrees - court-monitored settlements mandating that police departments adopt specific reforms. Consent decrees are powerful oversight tools that allow DOJ to combat police abuse and force local police departments to adopt meaningful reforms.

That practice came to a complete halt in the Trump administration. The former Attorney General Jeff Sessions severely curtailed DOJ's ability to deploy these powerful tools by issuing guidance that limited the use of consent decrees. That guidance weakened a Division that already had limited capacity to pursue pattern or practice investigations due to funding constraints. While Attorney General Garland recently announced the rescission of that memorandum, the Trump Administration's attack on consent decrees demonstrates the need for Congress to provide additional authority and resources for DOJ to conduct these investigations, and to give state governments the funding and tools necessary to act in case DOJ won't.

"Communities across the country are calling for real reforms to end the systemic racism that plagues not just policing but the entire criminal legal system. We must begin by holding police officers and departments accountable when they engage in racist or discriminatory policing, and provide robust resources at the federal and state level to investigate police departments with histories of unconstitutional policing," said Senator Warren. ""This legislation is just one step - I will keep working with my colleagues for a complete overhaul of our policing and justice systems."

"Across the country, Americans have urgently called on their government officials to re-imagine policing, rebuild trust, and improve public safety for all, especially African-Americans and other communities of color," said Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland. "I'm proud to introduce the Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act with Senator Warren, because Congress has a critical role to provide the resources and accountability needed to ensure that all of our communities are properly served, protected, and respected."

The Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act of 2021 would:

  •  Empower state attorneys general to pursue pattern or practice investigations and cases, providing a critical backstop if DOJ fails to act, and create a grant program to assist states in pursuing investigations and consent decrees.
  • Triple funding for DOJ's Civil Rights Division, and dedicate $100 million per year for the next 10 years to the Division to pursue these investigations into police departments with a history of engaging in unconstitutional and discriminatory policing practices.
  • Encourage DOJ to look beyond traditional law enforcement mechanisms when fashioning remedies with police departments, and consider reform mechanisms like mental health support, civilian oversight bodies, and community-based restorative justice programs.
  • Prevent conflicts of interest in pattern and practice investigations by barring certain officials from being designated to bring federal actions for pattern and practice violations if there would be a conflict of interest.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; Demand Progress; National Urban League; National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE); National Action Network;  and the Public Rights Project.

"For too long, communities of color have borne the brunt of state-sanctioned violence and discrimination at the hands of police," Joi Chaney, Senior Vice President & Executive Director of the Washington Bureau of the National Urban League. "Now, we must take up the work to reverse all the ways that the previous administration made it harder for the federal government to compel police departments with long histories of discrimination to reform. The Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act would empower federal and state governments to investigate and hold accountable officers and departments that engage in racist policing, incorporate restorative justice remedies in consent agreements, and establish community oversight measures. The National Urban League is proud to support this bill."

"Public Rights Project is proud to support this bill to give state attorneys general the enhanced tools and resources they need to investigate systemic racism in police departments across the country," Jill Habig, Founder and President of The Public Rights Project . "As an organization that works with cities and states to enforce civil rights and protect vulnerable communities, we are committed to addressing both individual actions and institutional factors that create and maintain systems of oppression. We know that state attorneys general can play an essential role in holding police departments-and individual police officers-accountable for unconstitutional practices and racist policing. As an organization, we will continue to hold the government and those who wield its power to the highest standards of legal and moral conduct."

"The history of police brutality against and profiling of people of color in the United States demands action. Congress can start to address and tackle racist and abusive policing by empowering State Attorneys General with the tools necessary to investigate police misconduct," Sean Vitka, Senior Policy Counsel at Demand Progress. "The Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act of 2021 would take an important step in that direction, and we applaud Sen. Warren for advancing the fight for justice. Congress must establish accountability for police who abuse their power."

The bill was first introduced by Senator Warren and then-Congressman Cedric Richmond in the last Congress.

Senator Warren and Congresswoman Strickland are co-sponsors of Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and then-Senator Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) Justice in Policing Act, which includes provisions to strengthen pattern or practice investigations into police misconduct, including giving DOJ subpoena power in pattern or practice cases and providing grants to state attorneys general to conduct pattern or practice investigations. Senator Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) also introduced the Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act to hold law enforcement officers criminally liable for failing to obtain medical assistance to people in custody experiencing medical distress.