Toward Democratic Police Reform: A Vision for 'Community Engagement' Provisions in DOJ Consent Decrees

88 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2016 Last revised: 9 Feb 2017

Date Written: October 12, 2016


Recent attention surrounding police shootings of Black and Brown people has demonstrated to the public what communities of color have known for many years: that police practices are often discriminatory, dangerous, and beyond sub-constitutional. To address these concerns, and at the behest of community requests, the Department of Justice (DOJ), under the enforcement of the Obama administration, has intervened in several cities and counties around the country using its Section 14141 authority to reform police departments where it can find a pattern or practice of police misconduct. Research indicates these interventions have generally been effective in reducing police misconduct and allegations of abuse in places where the reforms have been implemented. Still, the content and implementation of the “community engagement” provisions contained in the DOJ’s policing consent decrees, and whether these provisions adequately address concerns regarding police-community relocations, has received little critical analysis. This Article provides an in-depth look at the consent decrees’ community engagement in Seattle, Portland, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Cleveland, Albuquerque, and Ferguson. This research shows for the first time these so-called “Community Engagement” sections actually leave community members feeling marginalized and subverted during the reform processes. This shortcoming undermines the democratic capacity of persons harmed by the police to truly participate in police reform processes. This Article provides preliminary suggestions for empowering the consent decree processes with stronger democratic values responsive to community needs and analyzes particular challenges to meaningful democratic participation under the DOJ’s reform model.

Keywords: police reform, community engagement

Suggested Citation

Patel, Sunita, Toward Democratic Police Reform: A Vision for 'Community Engagement' Provisions in DOJ Consent Decrees (October 12, 2016). Wake Forest Law Review, Forthcoming, American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2017-04, Available at SSRN:

Sunita Patel (Contact Author)

UCLA School of Law ( email )

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