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Justice Department to set new rules for court-appointed monitors of police departments

It's "no secret that the monitorships associated with some [consent decrees] have led to frustrations and concerns" among law enforcement, Garland said.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Monday that the Justice Department would be setting new rules for court-appointed monitors who oversee reform at police departments that have been sued by the federal government for misconduct.

The new rules will limit how much cities will be required to spend on the watchdogs who oversee their reform efforts, provide for additional training for all parties involved and limit the tenure of an overseer to five years unless a court approves more time.

Speaking to the International Association of Chiefs of Police on Monday, Garland said it is no secret that the Biden Justice Department believes in the power of reforming police departments through federal oversight and investigations.

“It is also no secret that the monitorships associated with some of those settlements have led to frustrations and concerns within the law enforcement community,” he said.

Garland tasked Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta with convening 50 listening sessions on the issue, and the result, he said, is a new set of rules to place guardrails on the monitors.

As for the ballooning costs of monitorships, which are absorbed by local taxpayers, Garland said: “Monitoring is a public service, and there should be no question that the monitors’ commitment is to the department and the community they serve — not to their bottom line.”

The Justice Department typically negotiates the terms of a consent decree with a city whose police department has been found to be in need of reform, and a federal judge ultimately sets the terms of the reform plan.

Often the Justice Department takes police departments or cities to court after high-profile police shootings raise questions about whether police are using excessive force or exhibiting a pattern of racially biased behavior, as in the consent decree with the Ferguson, Missouri, police department imposed in 2016 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown two years earlier.

Former President Donald Trump's Justice Department rarely used consent decrees, launching only one investigation into a police department during the four years. The Biden Justice Department has already used the tool multiple times, most notably in Minneapolis, in response to the death of George Floyd, and most recently in Phoenix.