Journal of Law and Policy


Finn Mayock


The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that engulfed the United States in 2020 reignited public attention towards the violent and discriminatory practices of police departments across the country. While methods of reforming these institutions were debated with new vigor, the federal courts have been quietly overseeing efforts to obtain constitutionally compliant policing in numerous cities for decades. Using legal tools such as consent decrees and monitors, the Department of Justice has enlisted the assistance of federal courts to ensure that police practices are in congruence with the Constitution. As pervasive police violence against black and brown people continues unabated—and these lengthy consent decrees show no resolution in sight—it appears that these court-overseen efforts have not been successful. This Note explores the Department of Justice’s practice of entering consent decrees with aberrant police institutions and the work of the federal monitors appointed as overseers of such reform efforts. In reviewing the near-decade long consent decrees governing police departments in Seattle and New York City, this Note utilizes monitor reports to identify why these institutions have eluded constitutional compliance. Ultimately, this Note argues that the Department of Justice, or the governing court, must take a proactive role in the enforcement of these consent decrees and must coerce constitutional compliance with the use of civil contempt sanctions against the respective municipalities. Such contempt creates a downward pressure upon police departments and will spur the municipal legislatures to take greater interest into reaching compliance with these reform efforts.