A Decade's Tale

Consent Decrees and Police Use of Disproportionate Excessive Force With Communities of Color


  • Dasha J. Rhodes Morgan State University
  • David L. Robinson Morgan State University School of Social Work
  • Paul C. Archibald Morgan State University School of Social Work
  • Laurens Van Sluytman Morgan State University School of Social Work




African Americans, police, excessive force, policy, consent decree


According to the U.S. Department of Justice (US DOJ, 2016), African Americans have experienced disproportionate instances of police use of excessive force as a result of discriminatory practices and insufficient training. Officers are permitted to use appropriate force in specific situations; however, when force is excessive and deemed unnecessary, it then becomes an issue of concern. The U.S. Department of Justice was invited to investigate police departments that participated in the use of excessive force and a consent decree was developed with those departments to remedy the DOJ's findings. The researchers conducted a consent decree analysis examining government investigations of police practices throughout the U.S. between 2008 and 2018 comprising the following terms: police reform, consent decrees, settlement agreement, investigation reports, use-of-force, and policy to determine how prevalent excessive force was used towards African Americans. Findings indicated that within the decade, 14 cities were investigated, 12 were identified as using excessive force, with nine having their use-of-force policies available, and four municipalities using excessive force against African Americans. Social work values, advocacy, and cultural training were also identified to aid in the decrease of excessive force complaints.


Adelson, J. (2017, June 19). Police watchdog agency raises questions about NOPD use of force against African-Americans. The New Orleans Advocate. Retrieved from http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/crime_police/article_ab81dae8-5549-11e7-b50d-b75d0302b722.html

Albuquerque Police Department. (2017). Procedural orders: Use of force. Retrieved from http://documents.cabq.gov/police/standard-operating-procedures/2-52-use-of-force.pdf

American Civil Liberties Union. (2012). Island of impunity: Puerto Rico’s outlaws police force. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/report/island-impunity-puerto-ricos-outlaw-police-force

Anderson, J. (2018, January 30). How the Baltimore police consent decree monitor will spend $1.475 million this year. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-sun-investigates-monitor-budget-20180130-story.html

Archibald, P., Daniels, K, &. Sinclair, M. (2017). Social work analysis of social change reflecting the dichotomous realities of Baltimore City. Urban Social Work, 1(1), 5-19. doi: https://doi.org/10.1891/2474-8684.1.1.5

Avila, J., & Marshall, S. (2014, November 17). US cities (and taxpayers) paying millions in police misconduct settlements. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/us-cities-paying-millions-police-misconduct-settlements/story?id=26916697

Baltimore Police Department. (2018). Policies. Retrieved from https://www.baltimorepolice.org/transparency/policies

Boehmke, F. J., Matthews Rury, A., Desmarais, B. H., & Harden, J. J. (2017). The seeds of policy change: Leveraging diffusion to disseminate policy innovations. Journals of Health Politics, Policy, & Law, 42(2), 285-307.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03616878-3766728

Broadwater, L. (2017, March 30). Pugh budget includes tax cut, more funding for Baltimore schools, police. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/politics/bs-md-ci-budget-20170330-story.html

Brown, G. (2010). The wind cries Mary—the intersectionality of race, gender, and reentry: Challenges for African-American women. St. John’s Journal of Legal Commentary, 24(4), 625-648.

Brunson, R. K., & Miller, J. (2006). Gender, race, and urban policing: The experience of African American youth. Gender and Society, 20(4), 531-552.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243206287727

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Use of force. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=84#terms_def

Bush, M., & Gallagher, M. (2014, April 9). DOJ reform could cost Albuquerque millions. Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved https://www.abqjournal.com/381173/apd-reform-could-cost-millions.html

Carter, J. S., & Corra, M. (2016). Racial resentment and attitudes toward the use of force by police: An over-time trend analysis. Sociological Inquiry, 86(4), 492-511.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/soin.12136

Chindarkar, N., Howlett, M., & Ramesh, M. (2017). Introduction to the special issue: “Conceptualizing effective social policy design: Design spaces and capacity challenges.” Public Administration & Development, 37(1), 3-14.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/pad.1789

City of Albuquerque. (2018). Proposed budget fiscal year 2019. Retrieved from http://documents.cabq.gov/budget/fy-19-proposed-budget.pdf

City of Ferguson. (n.d.). Moving Ferguson forward. Retrieved from https://www.fergusoncity.com/92/Police-Department

City of Ferguson. (2010). Use of lethal and less-lethal weapons use of force continuum. Retrieved from https://www.fergusoncity.com/DocumentCenter/View/2620

City of Portland, Oregon. (2017). Use of force. Retrieved from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/647779

Cleveland City Council. (2016). City council adopts balanced budget for 2016. Retrieved from http://www.clevelandcitycouncil.org/news-resources/current-news/2016/03-march/city-council-adopts-balanced-budget-for-2016

Cleveland Division of Police. (2018). General police order: Use of force—general. Retrieved from http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/sites/default/files/forms_publications/01.10.2018General.pdf

Colebatch, H. K. (2009). Policy (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education

Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M., Wittenbrink, B., Sadler, M. S., & Keesee, T. (2007). Across the thin blue line: Police officers and racial bias in the decision to shoot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1006-1023.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1006

Danilina, S. (n.d.). What is police brutality? In The law dictionary (2nd ed.). Retrieved from https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-is-police-brutality/

Davis, K. (2017). The police commissioner’s 2016 report of the Baltimore Police Department [2016 Report]. Retrieved from https://www.baltimorepolice.org/police-commissioner%E2%80%99s-2016-report-baltimore-police-department

Davis, R. C., Henderson, N. J., Mandelstam, J., Ortiz, C. W., & Miller, J. (2002). Federal intervention in local policing: Pittsburgh’s experience with a consent decree. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=463256

DeBerry, J. (2016, April 25). Better training for police costs less than settling with brutality victims. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from https://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2016/04/police_brutality_settlements.html

Desmond, M., Papachristos, A. V., & Kirk, D. S. (2016). Police violence and citizen crime reporting in the Black community. American Sociological Review, 81(5), 857-876. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122416663494

DiBattista, M. S. (2017). A force to be reckoned with: Confronting the (still) unresolved questions of excessive force jurisprudence after Kingsley. Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 48(2), 203-256.

East Haven Police. (n.d.). Federal judge terminates consent decree, dismisses case between town of East Haven and department of justice. Retrieved from http://www.easthavenpolice.com/2017/12/20/federal-judge-terminates-consent-decree-dismisses-case-between-town-of-east-haven-and-department-of-justice/

East Haven Police Department. (2014). Use of force. Retrieved from http://www.easthavenpolice.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/404.2_-_Use_of_Force_Effective_09-01-2014.pdf

Epp, C. R., Maynard-Moody, S., & Haider-Markel, D. (2016). Beyond profiling: The institutional sources of racial disparities in policing. Public Administration Review, 77(2), 168-178. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12702

Gilbert, N., Ahrweiler, P., Barbrook-Johnson, P., Narasimhan, K. P., & Wilkinson, H. (2018). Computational modeling of public policy: Reflections on practice. Journal of Artificial Societies & Social Stimulation, 21(1), 1-19.

doi: https://doi.org/10.18564/jasss.3669

Gilling, D., & Barton, A. (1997). Crime prevention and community safety: A new home for social policy? Critical Social Policy, 17(52), 63-83.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/026101839701705204

Ginger, J. D. (2017). Monitor’s report: Outcome assessments for APD’s casa implementation response: A quantitative and qualitative assessment and analysis. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/usao-nm/page/file/991201/download

Goff, P. A., Lloyd, T., Geller, A., Raphael, S., & Glaser, J. (2016). The science of justice: Race, arrest, and police use of force. Retrieved from http://policingequity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/CPE_SoJ_Race-Arrests-UoF_2016-07-08-1130.pdf

Gupta, A. (2013). Structural violence and politics. Economy & Society, 42(4), 686-692. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03085147.2013.843914

Harris, C. J. (2010). Problem officers? Analyzing problem behavior patterns from a large cohort. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, 216-225.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2010.01.003

Hill, K., Fogel, S., Donaldson, L. P., & Erickson, C. (2017). State definitions of social work practice: Implications for our professional identity. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work, 14(4), 266-279.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/23761407.2017.1319775

Hirschfeld, K. (2017). Rethinking 'structural violence'. Society, 54(2), 156-162.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-017-0116-y

Kelly. K., Childress, S., & Rich, S. (2015, November 13). Forced reforms, mixed results. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/11/13/forced-reforms-mixed-results/?utm_term=.6f7355c55977

Kiefer, M. (2016, May 16). Maricopa County approves tentative 2.3b budget, including more money for Arpaio suit. The Arizona Republic. Retrieved from https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2016/05/16/maricopa-county-supervisors-budget-fy2017/84463360/

Klinger, D. A. (2012). Police training as an instrument of accountability. Saint Louis University Public Law Review, 32(1), 111-121.

Lacoe, J., & Stein, J. (2018). Exploring the policy implications of high-profile police violence. Criminology & Public Policy, 17(4), 859-863.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12410

Lawson, T. F. (2013). Powerless against police brutality: A felon's story. St. Thomas Law Review, 25, 218-243.

Leibson Hawkins, R. (2005). From self-sufficiency to personal and family sustainability: A new paradigm for social policy. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 32(4), 77-91.

Llana, S. M. (2015, June 29). In many countries, police rarely use their guns. Here's why. Takepart. Retrieved from http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/many-countries-police-rarely-use-their-guns-heres-why

Lomotey, K., Jackson, P. B., Adem, M., Ruf, P. X., Copeland, V. C., Huerta, A., ...Brown, D. (2016). People of color in the United States: Contemporary issues in education, work, communities, health, and immigration. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

MacDonald, J., & Stokes, R. J. (2006). Race, social, capital, and trust in the police. Urban Affairs Review, 41(3), 358-375. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1078087405281707

Madhani, A. (2016, February 08). Ferguson: DOJ consent decree could cost city nearly $10m. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/02/08/feguson-doj-consent-decree-could-cost-city-nearly-10m/80031828/

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. (2017). Policy and procedures: Use of force. Retrieved from https://www.mcso.org/documents/Policy/Critical/CP-1.pdf

McElvain, J. P., & Kposowa, A. J. (2008). Police officer characteristics and the likelihood of using deadly force. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35(4), 505-521.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0093854807313995

Meese, E., & Malcolm, J. G. (2017). Policing in America: Lessons from the past, opportunities for the future (Special Report 194). Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/crime-and-justice/report/policing-america-lessons-the-past-opportunities-the-future

National Association of Social Workers [NASW]. (2016a). NASW calls for policing reforms in aftermath of shootings in Oklahoma, North Carolina. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/news/news-releases/id/102/nasw-calls-for-policing-reforms-in-aftermath-of-shootings-in-oklahoma-north-carolina

NASW. (2016b). NASW social justice priorities 2016-2017. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkblog.org/wp-content/uploads/NASW-Social-Justice-Priorities-2016-17.pdf

NASW. (2017). NASW code of ethics. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English.aspx

National Council on Crime & Delinquency. (n.d.). Monitoring of the Antelope Valley settlement agreement. Retrieved from http://www.antelopevalleysettlementmonitoring.info

New Orleans Police Department [NOPD]. New Orleans police department 2019 budget presentation. Retrieved from http://cityofno.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=42&event_id=22497&meta_id=428228

NOPD. (2015). New Orleans police department operations manual. Retrieved from https://www.nola.gov/getattachment/NOPD/NOPD-Consent-Decree/Chapter-1-3-Use-of-Force.pdf/

NOPD Consent Decree Monitor. (2017). Special report of the consent decree monitor for the New Orleans police department consent decree on NOPD uses of force (Document No. 517). Retrieved from https://www.nola.gov/getattachment/NOPD/NOPD-Consent-Decree/12-1924-517-Monitor-s-Special-Report-on-the-NOPD-s-Uses-of-Force-(002).pdf/

NOPD Consent Decree Monitor. (2018). 2017 Annual report of the consent decree monitor for the New Orleans police department consent decree April 10, 2018 (Document No. 550-1). Retrieved from http://nopdconsent.azurewebsites.net/Media/Default/Documents/Reports/550%20MONITORS%20ANNUAL%20REPORT%20OF%202017.pdf

Police Brutality. (2003). In Dictionary of American history. Retrieved from www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/police-brutality

Portland Police Bureau [PPB]. (2015). Budget submission. Retrieved from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo/article/517647

PPB. (2017). PPB force analysis summary report (2017). Retrieved from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/644832

PPB. (2018). PPB force analysis summary report 2017 annual. Retrieved from https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/682975

Powell, Z. A., Meitl, M. B., & Worrall, J. L. (2017). Police consent decrees and section 1983 civil rights litigation. Criminology and Public Policy, 16(2), 575-605.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12295

Reisch, M. (2016). Why macro practice matters. Journal of Social Work Education, 52(3), 258-268. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2016.1174652

Seattle Police. (2018). Use of force annual report. Retrieved from https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/Police/Publications/2018-Use-of-Force-Annual-Report.pdf

Seattle Police Department Manual [SPD]. (2017). Use of force core principles. Retrieved from https://www.seattle.gov/police-manual/title-8

SPD. (2019). Seattle police use of force annual report. Retrieved from https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5727984-SPD-Use-of-Force-Report-2018.html

Shane, J. M., Lawton, B., & Swenson, Z. (2017). The prevalence of fatal shootings by U.S. police, 2015-2016: Patterns and answers from a new data set. Journal of Criminal Justice, 52, 101-111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2017.05.001

Stolberg, S. G. (2017, April 09). ‘It did not stick’: The first federal effort to curb police abuse. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/09/us/first-consent-decree-police-abuse-pittsburgh.html

Stone, C., Foglesong, T., & Cole, C.M. (2009). Policing Los Angeles under a consent decree: The dynamics of change at the LAPD. Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved from http://assets.lapdonline.org/assets/pdf/Harvard-LAPD%20Study.pdf

Swift, D. W. (2004). A state’s power to enter into a consent decree that violates state law provisions: What “findings” of a federal violation are sufficient to justify a consent decree that trumps state law? Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, 10(1), 37-53.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Population. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/topics/population.html

U. S. Department of Justice [US DOJ]. (1999). National data collection on police use of force. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ndcopuof.pdf

US DOJ. (2003). Principles of good policing: Avoiding violence between police and citizens. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/archive/crs/pubs/principlesofgoodpolicingfinal092003.htm

US DOJ. (2017). An interactive guide to the civil rights division’s police reform. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/922456/download

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division [DOJ-CRD]. (2011). Investigation of the New Orleans police department. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2011/03/17/nopd_report.pdf

US DOJ-CRD. (2014a). Investigation of the Cleveland division of police. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2014/12/04/cleveland_division_of_police_findings_letter.pdf

US DOJ-CRD. (2014b). Investigation of the Newark police department. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2014/07/22/newark_findings_7-22-14.pdf

US DOJ-CRD. (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson police department. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

US DOJ-CRD. (2016). Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/883296/download

United States of America v. The City of Ferguson, No. 4:16-cv-000180-CDP (April 19, 2016).

Van Engen, N., Tummers, L., Bekkers, V., & Steijn, B. (2016). Bringing history in: Policy accumulation and general policy alienation. Public Management Review, 18(7), 1085-1106. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2015.1088568

Van Sluytman, L. (2017). Oh Baltimore: Incarceration and re-entry in marginalized communities. Critical Social Work, 18(1), 25-45.

Wilson, M. H. (2015). The role of racial profiling in encounters with law enforcement. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkblog.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Role-of-Racial-Profiling-in-Encounters-with-Law-Enforcement.pdf