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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.