The Justice Department plans to to resume policing the police as President-elect Joe Biden intends to make civil rights a major focus of his administration, the Washington Post reports. Some experts hope the Biden administration will focus on collaboration as an alternative to legal action against departments, while reserving that option when egregious behavior is discovered, as happened in East Haven, Ct. DOJ in the Obama administration described the discriminatory pattern of traffic stops and a host of other practices by the East Haven Police Department as unconstitutional policing. Court-negotiated changes came with charges against four officers, who did prison time. The five-year reform effort reversed a legacy of discrimination and made the police department one of Connecticut’s most progressive, say local activists.
Using consent decrees to restructure police departments was largely abandoned by the Trump administration. The Obama DOJ opened 25 “pattern or practice” investigations of police departments, compared with one under Trump. Biden plans to revive the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which in the Obama years examined police practices through a program known as “collaborative reform” but stopped under Trump. East Haven has been hailed as an example of what is possible with buy-in from departments. Police Chief Ed Lennon and his staff undertook systematic changes. The staff now closely monitors traffic stop data to ensure drivers are treated consistently regardless of their race. The impetus for federal involvement in East Haven can be traced back to 2009, when officers confiscated decorative license plates from the wall of an Ecuadoran market under the pretense that it was illegal to keep old license plates. Lennon has been asked to spread the word about East Haven’s successes across the U.S.