Civil Rights Organizations Demand Police Reform Documents From Justice Department

January 4, 2018 11:30 am

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WASHINGTON — Three civil rights organizations filed Freedom of Information Act requests today with the Department of Justice for records relating to the enforcement of laws that protect individuals and communities from unconstitutional policing.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the FOIA requests seeking documents on DOJ’s investigatory and enforcement activities with state and local law enforcement since January 1, 2016. The requests were filed with the Civil Rights Division and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, known as the COPS Office.

The organizations also filed a FOIA request with the Bureau of Justice Assistance seeking an update on the department’s efforts to implement the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, which would capture data on fatal police shootings and other deaths in law enforcement custody.

“We’ve heard a lot about President Trump and Attorney General Sessions’ misguided ‘law and order’ philosophy, but we’re in the dark about what it entails. That’s why we’re filing the FOIA requests today, to expose their covert actions and safeguard our constitutional rights,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

The FOIA request filed with the Civil Rights Division asks for all information on investigations into local law enforcement agencies, as well information on any existing or proposed agreements local police. It also seeks materials related to the department’s work in enforcing a federal criminal law that prohibits police officers from violating an individual’s civil rights. The request comes after a March 31 memo from Attorney General Sessions ordering a review of all policing investigations and reform agreements.

“This Department of Justice has consistently discarded critical tools to help struggling police departments reform their illegal policies and practices, pulling the rug out from under community members and law enforcement agencies who rely on the department’s expertise to create real change,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s president and director-counsel. “Our FOIA requests demand that the Justice Department simply provide information to the public on the technical assistance and enforcement activities it is undertaking so that local communities can get on with the hard and necessary work of policing reform that the department has chosen to abandon.”

In mid-September, Sessions announced that the COPS Office will no longer focus on working with police departments to review and reduce problematic police practices at certain agencies, such as excessive use-of-force and race bias. The weakening of the COPS Office’s policing reform efforts includes the elimination of comprehensive assessments of police department policies and practices that were requested by several cities and agencies to improve policing outcomes and relationships with communities. Instead, the COPS Office recently announced a new $7 million grant to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) on December 20, 2017. IACP, along with other law enforcement associations, will create a Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center, which will provide subject matter expertise and training materials to law enforcement, though it is unclear whatrole civil rights experts will play in developing the center, if any.

Given Sessions’ announcement, the FOIA request of the COPS Office seeks records relating to changes to the procedures and policies governing the Collaborative Reform Initiative and other technical assistance programs. The request also seeks all COPS Office correspondence with police departments that had agreements for technical assistance, as well as any communications with representatives of police labor organizations, membership-based police organizations, or any other professional associations or organizations representing police officers.

“President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have a responsibility to ensure that our law enforcement conducts itself properly and consistently with the Constitution,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “When there are reasonable concerns about a police department, the DOJ has an obligation to investigate any potential civil rights violations and take affirmative steps to address and prevent unconstitutional policing. These documents will shed needed light on whether the federal government is meeting its obligations.”

The third FOIA request asks for all documents and correspondence related to federal, state, and local law enforcement’s compliance with the data collection and reporting requirements of Deaths in Custody Reporting Act. That includes DOJ’s enforcement of the law, all relevant data on arrest-related deaths and deaths in custody, as well as identifying any law enforcement agency that has failed to comply with the law.

The Civil Rights Division FOIA request is here:

The COPS Office FOIA request is here: ​​​​​​​

The DCRA FOIA request is here:

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