Randy Petersen, our senior researcher of policing, recently appeared on “The Lars Larson Show” to discuss his latest commentary in The Hill, which pushes back against suggestions that have surfaced over the past several months that federal authorities ought to have a role in community policing. Petersen criticized this idea, saying that while there’s much commonality in the policing subculture from one department—or one state—to the next, policing as a government function is “uniquely local,” and that the concept of solving local concerns from Washington, D.C. “wouldn’t seem to make any sense.”
One such instance in which the Department of Justice (DOJ) has exerted federal influence upon local agencies has been through consent decrees. Consent decrees are a modality by which two parties mutually agree to resolve some dispute without an admission of guilt from either party, and have been increasingly used by the DOJ throughout the Obama Administration—ostensibly as a way to hold local departments accountable for alleged civil rights violations. However, as Petersen explains, these federal decrees circumvent several layers of government who have primary jurisdiction long before federal agencies do:
“What that [consent decrees] leaves out is all of the layers of local and state government. If you have a city that’s really behaving that poorly, we have a county, we have a state police, we have an attorney general that can step in, long before we ever have to the federal government in there suing them through the Department of Justice.”
Petersen goes to discuss that local police forces are reflections of the community they belong to, and in some cases—such as county sheriffs—are directly elected into office by the community, and therefore are more directly accountable to local leaders and the public. Federal oversight of local police complicates this relationship, Petersen explains, making it more difficult for the public to delineate who the appropriate arbiter is for conflict resolution.
The entirety of Petersen’s interview with Lars Larson can be found below (starting at 47 minutes), and his op-ed in The Hill can be found here.