Tierney Blog

State AGs Carry Responsibility for Police Department Reform

Although the US DOJ continues to abandon efforts to reform local police departments, state AGs remain active in this area.

One tool available to state AGs is the consent decree. Just last week, in a last-minute act, now Former AG Sessions signed a memo making it more difficult (some would say nearly impossible) for the federal DOJ to use consent decrees to curb civil rights violations by local police departments. But state AGs can still turn to federal courts to create oversight by the federal judiciary using consent decrees.

Chicago provides an example. When the Sessions DOJ walked away from an agreement in principle to reform Chicago’s police department, the Illinois AG stepped in to get a consent decree. You can read more about this in our earlier post about the Illinois AG’s lawsuit. The proposed consent decree, submitted by the Illinois AG and the City of Chicago, is still pending in federal court. Other AGs will be monitoring the Chicago matter with interest in following General Madigan’s lead.

State AGs have broad authority, and AGs throughout the country have been using their authority to reform police practices. They’ve taken over investigations into police shootings, taken on direct review of police department reforms, and acted to increase transparency on police use of force. 

The State AG Project at ACS will continue to compile a list of efforts by state AGs to reform police departments and the criminal justice system. With the federal government creating a leadership vacuum, we’re likely to see more action by state AGs in this area.