Healey seeks more power to investigate police misconduct

Joins 17 other AGs in letter seeking congressional action

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY and her colleagues in 17 other states are urging Congress to give them greater authority to investigate practices of patterned unconstitutional policing and bring enforcement actions in federal courts.

The push to police the police comes after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the absence of any efforts by the US Justice Department to address police misconduct since January 1, 2017.

“Urgent action is necessary at all levels of government to remedy the injustice of police misconduct,” the attorneys general say in a letter addressed to congressional leaders.

The state officials are asking Congress to amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was enacted after the beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles Police Department officers in 1991.

That law gave the Department of Justice authority to investigate patterns and practices of police misconduct by local police departments. According to the letter, the Department of Justice initiated 69 pattern-or-practice investigations yielding 40 consent decrees between 1994 and 2017. Since 2017, however, the investigations have stopped and there have been no consent decrees.

The letter quotes former US attorney general Jeff Sessions as saying “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”

The attorneys general, however, say they are ready to step in. If the law is amended, they would be authorized to use subpoenas to investigate complaints of pattern-or-practice violations of unconstitutional policing and to gather data about the use of excessive force.

“Many police departments struggle to hold officers accountable for using excessive force,” the letter says. “In many instances, police officers who use excessive force are given reduced or no discipline or are rehired after being terminated for misconduct. Research has shown that a record of prior civilian complaints is a significant factor in predicting serious misconduct.”

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer facing second-degree murder charges for the death of Floyd, was the subject of 18 prior complaints against him by civilians.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The letter said six of the 18 states, including Maine and Rhode Island, are already taking steps to address police misconduct by filing lawsuits, conducting investigations, or establishing special divisions within their offices to address the problem.

Healey, who signed on to the letter on Thursday, did not outline in a press release whether there are specific instances of alleged systemic police misconduct that she would like to investigate in Massachusetts. Healey’s office did say that it has taken action against individual police officers for abuse and earlier attorneys general have done the same. The most notable example was in 1993 when the Supreme Judicial Court granted an injunction against 13 Boston police officers, barring them from excessive use of force in the future.