Misconduct by law enforcement is, unfortunately, in the news too often. Those sworn to protect and serve the public often find themselves defending the deadly actions they take against people suspected of criminal activity. In some cases, officers can offer a justifiable reason for their actions, but in others, the situation appears to be solely an abuse of power.

The U.S. Department of Justice explains that the Police Misconduct Provision is the federal law that prohibits state and local law enforcement to act in a way that violates individuals’ constitutional rights. Under this law, the DOJ may take action against an officer, but it does not allow individuals to do so.

An important point

The Provision requires the DOJ to prove that the officer’s violation indicates a pattern of habitual behavior rather than a single incident. For example, if an officer has one report of using excessive force without justification, another for unlawful arrest and additional reports of unlawful stops, then this is enough to prove habitual behavior.

Misconduct

The law covers both violent and nonviolent behaviors. For example, not only is excessive force without justification a violation but so are the following:

  • False arrests
  • Unlawful stops
  • Unjustifiable searches
  • Discrimination

The law also prohibits sexual misconduct and harassment.

Special note

When the DOJ provides evidence of a behavior pattern, it does not have the burden of proof to show discrimination occurred. Confusion stems from the fact that laws other than the Police Misconduct Provision do have this requirement.

Remedies

The DOJ may order an end to the conduct or enforce policy or procedural changes within the agency where the misconduct occurred. However, this law does not provide for monetary relief to the victims for the damages the misconduct caused them. For example, a victim cannot use the DOJ to recover damages for wrongful death, but the DOJ can implement new policies within the law enforcement agency to prevent future wrongful death situations.