Federal probes of police often bring changes

  • Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez speaks during the press conference held on Friday regarding police conduct at Police Headquarters.
Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez speaks during… (Cassidy Johnson, Baltimore…)
October 04, 2014|By Mark Puente and Doug Donovan | The Baltimore Sun

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating allegations of brutality and misconduct at Baltimore's Police Department, the type of probe that has triggered wide-ranging reforms in other cities. Here's a look at federal investigations in five other jurisdictions:

Pittsburgh — Police officers were accused of making false arrests of people who challenged their authority and of using excessive force against criminal suspects, including individuals wearing handcuffs. The department was also accused of failing to discipline officers for such actions. The Department of Justice began investigating in 1996 and entered a consent decree a year later. By 1999 the Police Department had established an "early warning" database system to spot problematic officers and new ways to modify their behavior. Monitoring ended in 2005.

Washington, D.C. — In 2001 the Washington police chief requested a Department of Justice investigation, an action federal officials called "unprecedented." Investigators found a "pattern or practice of use of excessive force," including police dogs that bit suspects 70 percent of the time. They also found that some officers justified excessive force by falsely alleging that they were being assaulted. In addition, Washington police inadequately investigated and tracked complaints of excessive force. Reforms were implemented and monitoring ended in 2008.

Prince George's County — The Department of Justice opened one probe in 1999 after several vicious attacks by police dogs on handcuffed or subdued suspects. A second investigation started a year later after officers shot 12 people in one year, killing five. By 2004 — after the county had paid $10 million in jury awards and settlements in brutality lawsuits — the county agreed to a consent decree to implement sweeping reforms to its use of police dogs and firearms and a tougher system to review alleged misconduct and shootings by police. Monitoring ended in 2009.

Cleveland — In 2012, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson asked for a federal review of policies governing the Police Department's use of force. The request came after a high-profile chase in which officers fired 137 bullets into a car, killing both occupants. That review is nearing completion. Jackson wanted an independent probe to validate internal changes already put in place to improve the police force's relationship with residents, a spokeswoman said.

Seattle — Federal investigators in 2011 determined that Seattle police had engaged in a practice of excessive force, especially when using batons and flashlights. They also found that a small number of officers was responsible for a large percentage of excessive force incidents and that the department had no adequate system to identify them. Out of the "approximately 1,230 internal use of force reports" that investigators reviewed from a 27-month year period, "only five were referred for 'further review' at any level within the Seattle police department," federal records show. A consent decree was entered in July 2012 and is still being monitored.

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