Wyden, Merkley Reintroduce Legislation to Strengthen Accountability and Combat Discriminatory Police Practices

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today joined the reintroduction of legislation that would strengthen the U.S. Department of Justice’s  and state governments’ ability to hold police and other officials accountable for discriminatory practices. 

After Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in 2014, President Obama’s Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation, which concluded the Ferguson Police Department had a history of engaging in unlawful and discriminatory practices. The investigation resulted in a consent decree, a legally enforceable reform agreement between the federal government and the Ferguson Police Department, requiring Ferguson to establish stronger restrictions on the use of force by officers.  

During the Trump administration, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions severely limited the Justice Department’s ability to use consent decrees and other tools to push police departments to address unconstitutional behavior. This reintroduced Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act of 2024 seeks to prevent future attacks on civil rights investigations and remedies by giving state governments the tools necessary to act when the DOJ does not. 

“When those wearing a badge continue to evade responsibility and accountability for violations of people’s civil rights, there needs to be a real change,” Wyden said. “More than a century of racism in our police departments and our criminal justice system needs to be addressed at its root. Consent decrees are essential legal tools to go after rogue police departments for discriminatory, unconstitutional practices. The Trump administration’s attack on consent decrees has demonstrated the need for legislative action to put an end to harmful policing in every corner of our country.”

“A police badge isn’t a free pass to commit crimes with impunity. Everyone in our country should be able to trust that the policing and justice systems will work fairly for them—regardless of the color of their skin—and that means we need to reimagine these systems to rebuild trust,” Merkley said. “The Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act is an important step toward holding police officers and departments accountable for racist and discriminatory policing. Congress must pass this bill to take a stand against discrimination and improve public safety for all.”

The bill was first introduced in July 2020 and reintroduced in June 2021. The Enhancing Oversight to End Discrimination in Policing Act of 2024 would: 

  1. Empower state attorneys general to pursue pattern-or-practice investigations, providing a critical backstop if the Justice Department  fails to act, and create a grant program — with robust monitoring and accountability for how grant funds are used — to assist states in pursuing investigations and consent decrees.
  2. Increase funding for the Justice Department Civil Rights Division by dedicating $445 million per year for the next 10 years, including for the Division and states to pursue these investigations into police departments, prosecutors’ offices, judges, and certain other government offices with a history of engaging in unconstitutional and discriminatory practices.
  3. Encourage the Justice Department to look beyond traditional law enforcement mechanisms when fashioning remedies with police departments, and consider reform mechanisms such as mental health support, civilian oversight bodies, and community-based restorative justice programs.
  4. Prevent conflicts of interest in pattern-or-practice investigations by barring certain officials from being designated to bring federal actions for pattern-or-practice violations if there would be a conflict of interest. 

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the Senate cosponsors include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Endorsing organizations include the ACLU, NAACP, National Urban League, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Color of Change, Public Rights Project, National Action Network, and National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.