FORT WORTH ( November 10, 2016) — Tarleton’s School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies partnered with the Texas A&M University School of Law last week to host the first-ever U.S. conference on the use of federal consent decrees to implement police reform.
Members of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, federal judges and monitors, and police chiefs from major cities exchanged ideas on best practices and lessons learned.
The use of consent decrees for police reform is a result of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which allows the U.S. Department of Justice to open investigations into local and state policing agencies suspected of civil rights violations.
After an extensive investigation, some agencies are placed under the oversight of a federal court and required to enter into a consent decree, or a series of reforms designed to safeguard against future abuses. The agreement is overseen by a court-appointed federal monitoring team who, among other roles, conducts audits of the policing agency’s progress on the reforms.
During her keynote address at the two-day event, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta—head of Civil Rights at the Department of Justice—spoke about the historical significance of the conference, calling it an ideal setting to engage in one of the most important dialogues in the nation.
Currently, the Civil Rights Division enforces 18 agreements with law enforcement agencies, including 14 consent decrees. Cities with current consent decrees include New Orleans, Seattle and Ferguson, Mo., among others.
“Last week’s inaugural conference marks the first time in U.S. history that such a vast number of key players involved with police reform have come together to share lessons learned,” explained Dr. Alex del Carmen, executive director of Tarleton’s criminology school and a former federal monitor. “Tarleton’s School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies and the Texas A&M University School of Law literally made history, and there is no doubt that outcomes from the conference will have a lasting impact on police reform.”
Del Carmen worked with Dr. Andrew Morriss, dean of the Texas A&M University School of Law, and U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan—Eastern District of Louisiana—to bring the conference to Fort Worth.
“The significance of this conference cannot be overstated,” Morgan said. “Police reform is a difficult and complex task, even when all the parties involved have the best intentions. Bringing all of us together to share information and ideas will help us do our jobs better and more efficiently.
“It was heartening to see that everyone was focused on not just achieving reform but maintaining it long after the Department of Justice and the federal courts complete their work,” she added. “My thanks to Tarleton and A&M for providing this forum.”
Applauding the vision of Tarleton’s criminology school and the A&M law school, U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo Gelpi—District of Puerto Rico—said, “This historic first gathering of all those involved in the police reform process constituted an important exchange of ideas and best practices, which ultimately will benefit our nation’s citizens and those sworn to protect them and uphold the law.”
More than 200 lawmakers and police officials attended the event.