Criminal Justice & the Rule of Law States & Localities

The Lawfare Podcast: A ‘New Era in Police Reform?’ with Christy Lopez

Tyler McBrien, Christy Lopez, Jen Patja
Friday, August 4, 2023, 8:00 AM
Christy Lopez joins Tyler McBrien to discuss the Justice Department's civil rights investigation into the Memphis Police Department and what it means going forward. 

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On July 27, the Justice Department announced a sprawling civil rights investigation, also known as a pattern or practice investigation, into the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department. The announcement came just weeks after the department’s Civil Rights Division released a report of a similar investigation into abuses at the Minneapolis Police Department. Both investigations were motivated, at least in part, by the murder of black men at the hands of police—Tyre Nichols in Memphis and George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

In a recent article for Lawfare about the Minneapolis report and another report looking at the Louisville Metro Police Department, Christy Lopez wrote: “As with past police investigations, the abuse these reports document is chilling, partly in its frequency and perhaps even more so in conveying how casually abuse can occur in policing.” And yet she remained hopeful, writing that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department “heralded what could be a new era in police reform.”   

Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien sat down with Christy, a Professor from Practice at Georgetown Law and former Deputy Chief in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, to talk about her extensive experience conducting pattern or practice investigations into police departments and negotiating consent decrees. They talked about the history of these investigations stretching back to the Rodney King beating, the common trends of police abuse that pattern or practice investigations find, and whether or not we’re in the midst of a broader reckoning with ideas of policing and public safety. 

Please note that this episode contains content that some people may find disturbing, including graphic depictions of police violence. Listener discretion is advised.

Tyler McBrien is the managing editor of Lawfare. He previously worked as an editor with the Council on Foreign Relations and a Princeton in Africa Fellow with Equal Education in South Africa, and holds an MA in international relations from the University of Chicago.
Christy Lopez is a Professor from Practice at Georgetown Law School, where she teaches courses on criminal procedure and policing. From 2010 to 2017, she served as a Deputy Chief in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Jen Patja is the editor and producer of The Lawfare Podcast and Rational Security. She currently serves as the Co-Executive Director of Virginia Civics, a nonprofit organization that empowers the next generation of leaders in Virginia by promoting constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement. She is the former Deputy Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier and has been a freelance editor for over 20 years.

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