- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Joins National Coalition Urging Congress to Give States Authority to Investigate Unconstitutional Policing
BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a national coalition of 18 attorneys general in urging Congress to expand federal law to give state attorneys general statutory authority and tools to investigate practices of unconstitutional policing and bring enforcement actions to create systemic change.
In a letter sent to Congressional leadership today, the national coalition of attorneys general calls on Congress to expand the law enforcement misconduct section of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was enacted after the beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles Police Department officers in 1991. The coalition argues that attorneys general should have the authority to conduct pattern-or-practice investigations into the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers, particularly because the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has abandoned its efforts to reform policing under the Trump Administration.
According to the letter, the DOJ initiated 69 pattern-or-practice investigations between 1994 and 2017, which resulted in 40 court-enforceable consent decrees. However, since 2017, the DOJ has largely curtailed the ability of federal law enforcement to use court-enforced agreements to reform local police departments accused of abuses, taking the position that responsibility to oversee local law enforcement belonged to states and localities. Pattern or practice investigations by DOJ have, as a result, been nearly eliminated. The attorneys general argue that the DOJ’s refusal to address the pervasive problem of police misconduct has left communities without critical civil rights protections.
To make up for this failure to act by the federal government, the coalition urges Congress to authorize state attorneys general to use subpoenas to investigate complaints of pattern-or-practice violations of unconstitutional policing and to gather data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement. These steps would help states identify and remedy problematic and unlawful practices before a devastating incident occurs. For example, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing 46-year-old George Floyd on May 25 had 18 prior complaints filed against him with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs. According to a 2018 report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, law enforcement uses excessive force disproportionately on people of color, which too often leads to preventable injury and death. In fact, people of color comprise less than 38 percent of the nation’s population, yet they make up almost 63 percent of unarmed people killed by police.
Joining AG Healey in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of Illinois, New York, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Vermont.