Negotiated Justice? The Legal, Administrative, and Policy Implications of 'Pattern or Practice' Police Misconduct Reform
Degree awarded: Ph.D. Public Administration and Policy. American University
This dissertation offers the first theoretically-driven, comparative examination of the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) enforcement of Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Also known as `pattern or practice' reform, this provision grants the DOJ authority to "obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to eliminate the pattern or practice...of conduct by law enforcement officers...that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States" (42 U.S.C. Sec. 14141). This legal authority has generated negotiated settlement agreements between the DOJ and several police departments found to exhibit a pattern or practice of illegal conduct. In each case, affected jurisdictions have agreed to implement settlement agreements that require deep and aggressive reforms designed to eliminate the illegal conduct at issue. Harvard Law Professor William Stuntz (2006) has referred to Section 14141 as "the most important legal initiative of the past twenty years in the sphere of police regulation." Despite its close connection to fundamental aspects of the American democratic process, the legitimacy and accountability of police bureaucracies, and to public safety, pattern or practice reform remains dramatically understudied. As such, I examine settlement reform efforts in four jurisdictions found to exhibit a pattern or practice of excessive use of force: Pittsburgh, PA; Washington, D.C.; Cincinnati, OH; and Prince George's County, MD. Specifically, I develop and test analytical frameworks to describe and explain the implementation and institutionalization of change.The project's data is drawn from three sources: (1) quarterly reports filed by the independent monitor and police department staff; (2) twenty-eight open-ended interviews with key stakeholders, including police leadership, relevant city and county government personnel, independent monitors, and current and former DOJ attorneys; and (3) news reports, and publicly available data on demographic, crime, and socio-economic data. The study's data analysis is driven by a grounded theoretical approach.After completing brief cases studies of each jurisdiction, I develop an analytical framework to describe and evaluate the implementation of pattern or practice reform. The framework is based on both theoretical and empirical research taken from various areas of scholarship, including policy implementation, policing, and remedial law. I hypothesize that four categories of variables will define the implementation of settlement agreements, namely factors related to (1) the policy problem; (2) the policy solution; (3) the environmental context; and (4) the implementing agency.I test this framework by describing the implementation of three settlement agreement components central to each jurisdiction's reform effort, including use of force policy change, creation of early warning systems, and the development of citizen complaint investigation protocols. Findings suggest that each department faced significant yet varied challenges implementing these settlement components. Despite the delays and other complications that stem from such challenges, each jurisdiction achieved "substantial compliance" and was released from federal oversight within five to seven years of the original settlement date. Several factors help to explain variation between departments, including the complexity of joint action, agency and jurisdictional resources, active and capable police leadership, and support from local political leaders. This research also demonstrates the critical and unique role of independent monitors charged with overseeing the reform process. Monitors at once help to hold affected departments accountable, work to ensure that implementation remains high on the departments' agenda, and "fix" problems between stakeholder groups. Perhaps most importantly, these monitors act as intermediaries between DOJ attorneys, police leaders, and third-party groups, in the process bringing together "top-down" and "bottom-up" implementation forces.Parties to pattern or practice agreements, including the DOJ and members of affected police jurisdictions, conceive of such agreements as legal instruments and as a result minimize the policy ramifications of the reform process. As a direct result of this legal framing, departments (as well as the independent monitors) focus on achieving substantial compliance with the terms of the settlement to the exclusion of other, policy-related considerations. Therefore, my analysis of the implementation process did not address anything beyond department implementation of legal mandates, and thus omitted any discussion of the extent to which such reforms affected outcomes like use of force incidence, citizen complaints, or public opinion of the police. Further, this narrow analysis did not consider the extent to which pattern or practice reform brought about changes to organizational culture, agency transparency, and legitimacy in the eyes of the community.To account for this limitation, I examine the policy sustainability of pattern or practice reform initiatives. In order to frame several research questions on the sustainability of pattern or practice reform, I review literature from several fields, including organizational change, organizational theory, and policing. Drawing on these diverse approaches, I develop a framework for evaluating reform sustainability and hypothesize that sustainability is determined when the framework's three components are taken together: (1) the department's ability to sustain changes made to policy and accountability systems; (2) the symmetry between department culture and the goals of the reform effort; and (3) relevant outcomes. Next, I use this framework to evaluate the sustainability of change in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and Prince George's County. Specifically, I attempt to explain jurisdictional differences by using four sets of factors, including the process and substance of reform, and the organizational and environmental contexts affecting change in each department. As with implementation, capable police leadership and a consistent commitment to both the letter and spirit of the settlement among jurisdictional political leaders proved critically important in promoting sustainability. Success in Cincinnati highlights the importance of community support and a constructive working relationship between police management, organized labor, and civil liberties groups. This dissertation offers a multidisciplinary examination of a critically valuable yet understudied mechanism for replacing systematic, unlawful behavior with a "best practices" infrastructure for accountable, constitutional policing. Beyond offering a detailed examination of the reform process, both in terms of implementation and policy sustainability, this research implicates several important and enduring legal and policy questions, many of which help to define the study and practice of public administration, law, and criminal justice in the United States.
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