Letter to Editor -- Consent Decrees Don't Work

In a letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled “No Justice, No Police; Flawed Reforms Alienate Good Cops and Prolong a Crisis,” retired police officer Chuck Bosetti writes about the many issues with Consent Decrees and how Pittsburgh has been dealing with the “Ferguson Effect” since the first Decree took effect in 1997.

The first problem he explains is that Consent Decrees are too broad and typically punish only patrol officers when the real problems could lie within administration or somewhere else higher up the chain. Yet when trying to “find” the problems, the Department of Justice will rarely ever interview patrol officers. While he was Legal Chair of the Fraternal Order of Police for Pittsburgh in 200o, Bosetti met with Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the many unconstitutional stipulations of the Consent Decrees. He writes that Holder thanked him for his “suggestions” and that was the end of it.

The second problem of Consent Decrees is that they often increase violence by way of decreasing policing – also known as the “Ferguson Effect.” In Pittsburgh, Decrees mandated that officers stop using “Stop & FrisK” tactics – this resulted in a 48% increase in homicides.

Bosetti offers more examples of the problems with Consent Decrees, and explains that another reason they don’t work is because of the breakdown, or mess, of officers, politicians, and general social attitude of the public.

“…every honest cop knows that corruption and racism exist, but nowadays determining when and to what degree often pits the rule of law against mob psychology. A few of the roughly 20 decrees in force around the nation have worked well. But that’s due to a lucky mix of level-headed principal parties. The process itself depends on rigid, programmatic rules that are enforced, or not, by local politicians and their appointees who then exert more power over officers with punitive measures that end-run collective bargaining. Actual and perceived racism is often countered with repression of cops, which results in cultural stalemate — as in Baltimore now. No level of government can “decree” ethical behavior or legislate morality. The goal should be to breed character into the hiring and promotion process.”

Bosetti goes on to offer alternatives to Consent Decrees, some of which are great, some of which unfortunately still involve federal intervention and/or civilian review boards.

We need police and civilians both to understand that federal intervention and civilian review boards are not the answer to fixing corrupt police forces. As Bosetti mentions in his article, many people do not understand the inner workings of a police force, and there for place all the blame (or all the solutions) on one branch, when the problem is spread throughout. In order to improves our police forces, we must improve ourselves. Take time and make the effort to really understand how your local police force operates. This is as simple as attending city council meetings or scheduling an appointment with the chief.  A police force is just like any other organization or small business – often times the problem comes from way higher up the chain then we are aware of, and the ones making the rules don’t know what’s going on further down the chain. Fortunately for us here in America, our police forces are still operated locally, so that people like you and me have access to those higher up the chain and can actually make a difference. This won’t be the case if we let the federal government take over our local police.

Bosetti ends his article with a perfect statement;

“Official corruption in the name of reform is hardly new. By degrees, it alienates all cops, especially the most moral and legally savvy — the ones we need most.”

To read our article on Consent Decrees, click here.