A Necessary Expansion of State Power: A “Pattern or Practice” of Failed Accountability

Introduction

Too often do we hear of a person of color, frequently a Black man, dying at the hands of the police. Too often do we dismiss the tragedy as an isolated event. And too often do we learn that our criminal justice system has failed to provide meaningful redress. Local prosecutors work closely and develop strong ties with the police, leading to a governmental structure that denies justice to those most subjected to police misconduct. This Article proposes that the process of oversight and reform of police departments should be conducted by state attorneys general and their offices, as they are more likely than local prosecutors to function independently and impartially. Part I provides a snapshot of police misconduct, its inordinate impact on Black and Latinx communities, and the lack of oversight on police officers. Part II expands upon the different mechanisms at the local, state, and federal levels that are available to facilitate reform but are currently underutilized or ineffective. It focuses on 42 U.S.C. § 14141 (Section 14141), which enables the Department of Justice to conduct a pattern-or-practice investigation into law enforcement agencies with the potentiality of a lawsuit. Part III proposes the expansion of the Section 14141 power to the states, to ensure greater police accountability.

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