It’s a 1994 law referred to as: Title 42 USC §14141, “The police misconduct provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act”. It authorizes the Attorney General to file lawsuits against local township and village police departments for engaging in a pattern or practice of violating citizens’ federal rights. The AG also enforces the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which together prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin by police departments receiving federal funds.

The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. 3789d(c)(3) (“Safe Streets Act”), authorizes the Federal Attorney General to conduct investigations of local Police Departments to control them, and file civil litigation to eliminate a pattern or practice of discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, national origin or sex, in connection with any law enforcement agency that receives financial assistance from DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

Starting in the late 1990s, the Federal Special Litigation Section began to conduct investigations and implement consent decrees and settlement agreements where evidence demonstrated a violation of the police misconduct statutes. The investigations addressed such systemic problems as excessive force, false arrest, retaliation against persons alleging misconduct, and discriminatory harassment, stops, searches, and arrests. The decrees require the police departments to implement widespread reforms, including training, supervising, and disciplining officers, as well as implementing systems to receive, investigate, and respond to civilian complaints of misconduct. The decrees have had a widespread impact and are being used as models by other police departments. The Section has also used its authority under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) to reform restraint practices in adult prisons and jails and to obtain systemic relief in juvenile correctional facilities.

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