The Mount Vernon Police Department will undergo a pattern and practice investigation by the Department of Justice. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke held a press conference Friday to announce the investigation.
“An effective and accountable police department is a hallmark of a healthy and well-functioning democracy,” Clarke said in a statement. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to ensuring that law enforcement agencies across our country use their authority in a manner that is constitutional, transparent and free from discrimination.”
The DOJ will specifically look at the department’s use of force, strip and body cavity searches, and handling of evidence. Clarke’s office will also look at the accountability measures undertaken by the Mount Vernon Police Department. This includes complaint intake, review, and discipline.
With 184 officers on the police force, the majority Black city has a majority white and male police force. Located just outside New York City, Mount Vernon has over 73,000 residents. It is 65.8 percent Black and 16.1 percent white. Conversely, the police department is 41.3 percent white and 34.79 percent, Black.
During the Trump administration, the DOJ rolled back investigations of local police departments. As Stateline reported in May, more than 70 such investigations have been carried out since the practice was first instituted in 1994.
While federal policing reform stalled in Congress, such investigations are one of the few tools available to the federal government to take corrective action. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, commonly known as the 1994 crime bill, provides that “state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law.”
The Mount Vernon investigation is only the 74th such investigation undertaken since 1994. There are over 18,000 police departments nationwide.
Pattern and practice investigations are civil matters and can result in specific measures being implemented as a part of an agreement with the department and the DOJ. Investigators are also supposed to consider community experiences and insights as a part of the process.
“Police officers have tough jobs, and so many do their work honorably, lawfully, and with distinction, respecting the rights of the citizens they have sworn to protect,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “But when officers break the law, they violate their oath and undermine a community’s trust.”
Williams encourages people with information related to the investigation to contact the Department of Justice either by email at email@example.com or call (866) 985-1378.