In April of 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached
a settlement agreement with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police
(PBP) to correct a pattern of unconstitutional misconduct.' It was
the first time the DOJ had used 42 U.S.C. § 14141 to intervene
into a local police department to correct systemic misconduct.
The statute, passed in response to the Rodney King beating,
provides the U.S. Attorney General with the power to seek
equitable relief against troubled local police departments.
As the reform process began to unfold in Pittsburgh, "problems
soon emerged." The consent decree required Pittsburgh to
improve its process for investigating and responding to civilian
complaints. But at times, the PBP found it difficult to comply
with this requirement, in part because the city had agreed to a
collective bargaining agreement with the police union that limited
which complaints were eligible for investigation. While the
consent decree established ambitious goals for improvement, it
also included a clause that read: "Nothing in this Decree is
intended to alter the collective bargaining agreement between the
City and the Fraternal Order of Police." This meant that, in
attempting to reform the Pittsburgh Police Department via
§ 14141, the DOJ was effectively limited in its reach because of the
terms of the collective bargaining agreement. As Jonathan M.
Smith, the former Chief of the Special Litigation Section of the
DOJ's Civil Rights Division has observed, the Pittsburgh
experience is hardly unique. In the over twenty years since the
DOJ has had the power under § 14141 to seek equitable relief
against police departments, it has often had to take on "less
sufficient reform strategies" because of the barrier of police union
Rushin, Stephen and Garnett, Allison
"State Labor Law and Federal Police Reform,"
Georgia Law Review: Vol. 51:
4, Article 8.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/glr/vol51/iss4/8