Dasha J. Rhodes, LMSW, PhD Candidate, and Davida L. Robinson, LCSW-C, CCTP, PhD Candidate, Morgan State
University School of Social Work, Baltimore, MD 21251. Paul C. Archibald, DrPH, LCSW-C, Assistant Professor,
Morgan State University School of Social Work, Baltimore, MD 21251. Laurens Van Sluytman, PhD, LCSW, Associate
Professor, Morgan State University School of Social Work, Baltimore, MD 21251.
Copyright © 2019 Authors, Vol. 19 No. 1 (Spring 2019), 217-238, DOI: 10.18060/22599
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 In ternational Lic ense.
A Decade's Tale: Consent Decrees and Police Use of Disproportionate
Excessive Force With Communities of Color
Dasha J. Rhodes
Davida L. Robinson
Paul C. Archibald
Laurens Van Sluytman
Abstract: According to the U.S. Department of Justice (US DOJ, 2016), African Americans
have experienced disproportionate instances of police use of excessive force as a result of
discriminatory practices and insufficient training. Officers are permitted to use
appropriate force in specific situations; however, when force is excessive and deemed
unnecessary, it then becomes an issue of concern. The U.S. Department of Justice was
invited to investigate police departments that participated in the use of excessive force and
a consent decree was developed with those departments to remedy the DOJ's findings. The
researchers conducted a consent decree analysis examining government investigations of
police practices throughout the U.S. between 2008 and 2018 comprising the following
terms: police reform, consent decrees, settlement agreement, investigation reports, use-of-
force, and policy to determine how prevalent excessive force was used towards African
Americans. Findings indicated that within the decade, 14 cities were investigated, 12 were
identified as using excessive force, with nine having their use-of-force policies available,
and four municipalities using excessive force against African Americans. Social work
values, advocacy, and cultural training were also identified to aid in the decrease of
excessive force complaints.
Keywords: African Americans; police; excessive force; policy; consent decree
The use-of-force is a common and sometimes appropriate practice that occurs
throughout the daily duties of law enforcement. Officers are initially trained and authorized
to perform forceful tactics in specified situations (U.S. Department of Justice [US DOJ],
1999); however, it becomes troublesome when wrongful use of excessive force—
unnecessary force that exceeds reasonable and lawful responses—is practiced and leads to
either physical harm or death (Bureau of Justice Statistics, n.d.; Danilina, n.d.; DiBattista,
2017; Police Brutality, 2003). To give historical context, consent decrees were pioneered
in 1994 under the Clinton Administration (Stolberg, 2017). Prior to 2008, six cities entered
a consent decree agreement (Upper Marlboro, MD; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Newark,
NJ; Steubenville, OH; and Pittsburgh, PA) and three were found to engage in excessive
force practices (Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Steubenville) (US DOJ, 2017). Studies from
these cities have reported more effective policing as a result of the consent decree; although
limitations existed (Davis, Henderson, Mandelstam, Ortiz, & Miller, 2002; Powell, Meitl,
& Worrall, 2017; Stone, Foglesong, & Cole, 2009).
Heightened awareness of police use of excessive force has occurred within the last
decade as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted several investigations regarding
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 218
police practices across the United States. Discriminatory practices and unnecessary force,
specifically toward African Americans, were identified in some of the investigations due
to lack of training, which led agencies to enter a consent decree or settlement agreement
(US DOJ, 2016). Swift (2004) indicated that a consent decree is an agreement between
parties to remedy and resolve a query pertaining to a complaint or concern without either
party admitting fault or guilt.
In 2016, the Center for Policing Equity conducted a study involving 12 agencies with
approximately 600,000 city residents across the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, South, and West
regions of the United States (Goff, Lloyd, Geller, Raphael, & Glaser, 2016). Their findings
indicated that, on average, for every 100,000 residents, excessive force was used on 108
individuals; however, the mean for Whites was 76 per 100,000, while the mean for African
American residents was 273 per 100,000—a rate 2.5 times higher than the overall average
and 3.6 times higher than Whites (Goff et al., 2016). Additionally, police shootings occur
at a higher rate in disadvantaged, minority neighborhoods as well as cities with higher
racial inequality (Correll et al., 2007; McElvain & Kposowa, 2008). Debates concerning
the reasons for these disparities vary. For example, several researchers (MacDonald &
Stokes, 2006; Meese & Malcolm, 2017) suggest that African American individuals are
more likely to reside in neighborhoods with limited resources where crime is high,
increasing the need for police presence, potentially increasing the likelihood of police-
resident contact. Others have also suggested that police expansion occurred as a result of
revitalization projects that attempted to rebuild those same neighborhoods as investors
sought to protect their investment, the newly arriving consumers/residents, and their
business partners, which granted more contact with officers as the frequency of police
patrols were increased to protect the community (Van Sluytman, 2017). Still others have
argued that both neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideological forces have engineered crime
prevention as a vehicle to achieve individual responsibility and social welfare dependence
deterrence in resource-poor communities (Gilling & Barton, 1997).
These systems of policing have social and economic implications. Families and
communities experience adverse outcomes including a decrease in crime reporting out of
fear, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and other negative ailments that affect
the health and behaviors of others (Lacoe & Stein, 2018). Further, when death occurs,
human capital or individual sustainability, known as individual qualities, that aid in
personal productivity is lost. Individuals are unable to work due to police-inflicted injuries
and cannot contribute to the economic development of the community (Leibson Hawkins,
2005). Taxpayers are also subject to bear the payments of victims who experienced
excessive use-of-force lawsuits and the city’s legal fees due to frequent accusation of
misuse of police force (Kelly, Childress, & Rich, 2015) therefore, potentially diverting
funds from other city projects and budgets (Broadwater, 2017).
The findings of multiple consent decrees impacted the growth of scholarly interest
involving police officers and the African American community (Carter & Corra, 2016).
Advocacy, the value of human dignity, and engagement in social and criminal justice are
core principles driving social work practice and scholarship (National Association of Social
Workers [NASW], 2016b, 2017). Accordingly, social workers and the NASW called for
police reform that does not compromise public safety but gains public trust (Wilson, 2015).
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 219
Recommendations were suggested to the DOJ to have national uniform standards and
protocols on training models for use-of-force (NASW, 2016a).
The Importance of Use-of-Force Policies
Policy is a systematic way of addressing complicated issues that help individuals and
groups to act in accordance with a set agenda or practice (Colebatch, 2009). Effective
policy aids in overturning a system of inequity, systemic discrimination, and structural
violence (Gupta, 2013; Hirschfeld, 2017). Policy builds on existing procedures to either
heighten, replace, or specify evolving needs (Van Engen, Tummers, Bekkers, & Steijn,
2016). Community involvement is essential to constructing effective policy.
The consent decrees propose structural reform through the identification of
problematic practices (excessive force) and offer a remedy to overturn or adjust these issues
through policy revision or development while mindful of the community most affected
(Swift, 2004). As cities undergo a consent decree, the public is often invited to provide
feedback and suggestions during the development or amending of policies that directly
affect their community prior to implementation (Davis, 2017). Additionally, by having
policies in place to reduce the number of incidents that lead to police brutality (Klinger,
2012), increased community involvement may be instrumental to demonstrate governing
bodies’ commitment to correct practices that disproportionately target disadvantaged
communities with excessive use-of-force (Chindarkar, Howlett, & Ramesh, 2017). Policy
also serves as an important guideline for achieving social justice and increasing
accountability; it can be legally binding by guiding police officers’ use-of-force practices
(US DOJ, 2003).
The current research explored existing use-of-force policies among municipalities
across the U.S. that are facing scrutiny for excessive force practices. African Americans
and other targeted groups are discussed along with the difference in policies, cost, and
effectiveness. The intent of this analysis is to inform future social work practice and
promote advocacy for reduced use-of-force against communities of color. First, we
examined various documents that included investigation and consent decree reports that
highlighted cities that engaged in excessive force practices. Next, we identified variations
in the mentioned reports and identified the targeted populations along with police agencies
use-of-force policies. Further examination then determined the cities that applied levels of
force standards to their policy and demonstrated a decrease in complaints. Third, we
explored the implications of these findings for marginalized communities and social work
practice. Finally, we discuss recommendations for future social work advocacy and
involvement within the community in relation to use-of-force policies.
Consent Decree Analysis
Definition of Policy Documents
Policy is defined as formal procedures based on ideologies of a governing body or
organization that alters or homogenizes behavior and performance of individuals
(Chindarkar et al., 2017; Lomotey et al., 2016). Policy development is the outcome of
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 220
evaluation prefaced by a response to an event or crisis (Boehmke, Matthews Rury,
Desmarais, & Harden, 2017; Gilbert, Ahrweiler, Barbrook-Johnson, Narasimhan, &
Wilkinson, 2018). For this analysis, reviewed documents included use-of-force policies
that resulted from a consent decree or settlement agreement with the DOJ—both referred
to as "Agreement" in their reports. The primary analysis focused on the documents
administered by the identified police departments and DOJ.
Collection of Documents
Police brutality or maltreatment against African Americans has been discussed
nationally and internationally (DeBerry, 2016; Epp, Maynard-Moody, & Haider- Markel,
2016; Llana, 2015; Shane, Lawton, & Swenson, 2017). DOJ investigative reports were
obtained for analysis. Further methods included an internet-based search on the DOJ
website for documents that referenced consent decrees or settlement agreements,
investigation reports, and police reform (US DOJ, 2017). A list of cities with consent
decrees was created, with attention given to cities that entered an agreement between 2008
and 2018. A specific web search of each listed police agency was conducted including a
direct search for their respective consent decree monitor's web page to examine their site
for records of "policy" or "use-of-force." Additionally, the following key terms were used
on the "Google" search engine: investigation reports, consent decree, consent decree costs,
and excessive force. To retrieve the most accurate and reliable information, and to avoid
the collection of documents from opinionated sites or blogs, the researchers reviewed only
documents from police agencies, the DOJ, and national or local news sources.
Analysis of the Policy Documents
The analysis began by identifying cities and U.S. territories that entered a DOJ
agreement. The researchers screened those cities by reviewing reports to determine the
causes for a DOJ agreement. If excessive force was a factor, then further review was
expended to determine if a target population was identified. Once police agencies who met
the search criteria were recognized, a use-of-force policy search was then generated
creating the content for this analysis.
Development of a Grid for Deconstructing Consent Decrees
An analysis grid was created to facilitate a comparison between agencies that had
alleged patterns or practices of excessive force. The researchers developed the indicators
used in the analysis grid from the consent decrees or settlement agreements, proposed use-
of-force policies, community interest, cost of reform, and policy effectiveness.
The following six characteristics were used for comparison:
Municipalities and territories: locations identified to have violated the
constitution and undergone an agreement to govern actions to protect citizens. All
locations were identified in the U.S. and its territories.
Application plan: further development of concepts that were identified during
examination of all eligible consent decrees for analysis by the authors.
Publication date: describes the timeframe of events mentioned throughout this
analysis, such as the start of the DOJ investigation, the entering of the agreement,
and the year of the published use-of-force policy.
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 221
Goals and purpose: statements that mentioned the sanctity and value of human
life as part of their decision-making for execution of force or the purpose of policy.
Application process: involves the development of use-of-force policy and its
effectiveness within each department.
Budget: officially approved budgets were not always available for review under
the abovementioned search methods. Therefore, the study employed reported,
proposed, or estimated city budgets.
Evaluation: annual assessments either by the DOJ and/or police department's own
record-keeping of claims. Statements of decrease or increase in excessive use-of-
force complaints were determined via official reports or documents.
Table 1. Overview of the 14 Identified Cities with Consent Decrees Between 2008-2018
Force Used Against
U.S. Virgin Island
East Haven, Connecticut
New Orleans, Louisiana
African Americans and
Antelope Valley - L.A.
County Sheriff's Department
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mental Health Crisis
Maricopa County, Arizona
Newark, New Jersey
Overview of Collected Policy Documents
Between 2008 and 2018, the authors identified 14 consent decrees or settlement
agreements that met the search criteria. Of those, two cities (Antelope Valley and Newark)
did not meet the criteria for this analysis because their investigation revealed violation of
the Fair Housing Act and discriminatory stop-and-frisk and arrest practices, respectively
(National Council on Crime & Delinquency, n.d.; U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights
Division [DOJ-CRD], 2014b). The remaining 12 cities were identified to have alleged
patterns or practices of excessive force. Of those 12, only nine policies were available that
met the criteria for excessive use-of-force for the analysis; however, three cities (Baltimore,
Ferguson, and New Orleans) and one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico) acknowledged using
excessive force against African Americans (American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; DOJ-
CRD, 2015, 2016; New Orleans Police Department [NOPD] Consent Decree Monitor,
2017). Puerto Rico’s policy was not considered for additional inquiry due to the language
barrier and the policy being published in Spanish. All other policies met the criteria to be
examined for the consent decree analysis (See Figure 1). Table 1 provides an overview of
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 222
cities with consent decrees, the targeted population, and the availability of use-of-force
Figure 1. Flow Chart of Collected Documents Available for Analysis
Findings of the Consent Decree Analysis
Municipalities and territories. The U.S. cities and territories that were identified
allegedly engaged in excessive force. Force was either used towards the general population,
those with mental illness or in crisis, Latinos, or African Americans. Specifically, findings
of the DOJ reports indicated that African Americans were disproportionately represented
among those who experienced excessive force. In Baltimore, African Americans were
victims of excessive force in 90% of cases although they comprised 63% of the City’s
population (DOJ-CRD, 2016). In Ferguson, 90% of reported excessive force incidences
were against African Americans, although they comprised 67% of the population (DOJ-
CRD, 2015). In New Orleans, a reported 83% of excessive force cases were against African
Americans, with no mention of their percent within the population (Adelson, 2017; DOJ-
CRD, 2011). Additionally, there was no mention of the characteristics of the alleged
officers involved in excessive use-of-force; the reports only provided a review of the
victims involved in such instances. However, police officers who are involved in excessive
use-of-force tend to be White (McElvain & Kposowa, 2008), younger, and less experienced
Application plan. The outline for the analysis was established by the researchers based
on the DOJ’s suggestions listed in each city’s consent decree use-of-force policy. During
each read of the consent decree, the researchers continuously recorded the suggestions to
identify any differences and overlapping concepts among each city. Once all of the
documents were read, a comparison of the noted similarities and disparities was made
leading to the 13 concepts for the analysis beginning with the timeframe that each city
entered the consent decree and ending with reported evaluation as presented in Table 2.
Since much attention was given to excessive force, a generalization of requirements by the
DOJ gave cities freedom and the option to construct their own levels of reportable force
and state what is permitted and prohibited regarding overall force. Furthermore, regardless
of the differences in policy content, each document reported their goals or purpose and
included the requirement to give a verbal warning before using force when appropriate and
possible. All other application concepts such as budget, definitions, and training among
other listed items varied with each policy (See Table 2).
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 223
Table 2. Overview of Policies Included in Consent Decree Analysis
Budget in millions
Cost in dollars per 1,000
Definition of force
Definition of other terms
Incorporates Use-of-Force Model
Prohibits chokehold unless
Expectation to perform de-
Give verbal warning for lethal
Annual use-of-force training
Note. *estimated budget ** proposed budget. Budgets reported from Broadwater, 2017; Bush & Gallagher 2014; City of Albuquerque, 2018;
Cleveland City Council, 2016; Kiefer 2016; Madhani, 2016; NOPD, 2018; Portland Police Bureau [PPB], 2015
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 224
Publication date. Table 3 summarizes the dates of the sample including the start of
the DOJ investigation, the entrance of consent decree, and the year of the use-of-force
policy implementation. This shows the length of time taken before policies are updated
after a city enters a consent decree. Six of the cities updated their policy within a two to
three-year timespan from inception of a consent decree except for Ferguson, Baltimore,
and Maricopa County. Ferguson held the oldest use-of-force policy that was in effect
before the entry of an agreement compared to the other cities that updated their policy
either during the DOJ investigation or after entering an agreement. However, at the start of
2019, the city was awaiting public feedback on a draft updated policy for final
implementation (City of Ferguson, n.d.). Baltimore updated their policy during the DOJ
investigation before entering a consent decree and Maricopa County revised their use-of-
force policy one-year after the consent decree agreement.
Table 3. Timeframe of Updated Use-of-Force Policies
Goals and purpose. Each policy discussed the value, protection, and sanctity of
human life including an emphasis on de-escalation techniques and methods that can be
applied to ensure the safety of officers while protecting the public welfare (Albuquerque
Police Department [APD], 2017; Baltimore Police Department [BPD], 2018; City of
Ferguson, 2010; City of Portland, Oregon, 2017; Cleveland Division of Police, 2018; East
Haven Police Department [EHPD], 2014; Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, 2017; NOPD,
2015; Seattle Police Department [SPD] Manual, 2017). However, none of the documents
contained quantifiable goals regarding excessive use-of-force. For instance, none of the
policies suggested to decrease use-of-force complaints or cases by a certain percentage
within a specific timeframe.
All but three departments clearly identified the purpose of the policy at the start of the
document. The police departments described their use-of-force policy as a guideline and
expectation for officers to follow concerning all types of force—lethal and less lethal
(APD, 2017; City of Ferguson, 2010; Cleveland Division of Police, 2018; EHPD, 2014;
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, 2017; NOPD, 2015) . Baltimore and Portland did not
have a distinguished “purpose” section within their policy compared to the others but
shared the same purpose in the general content. Seattle was the only department that did
not clearly identify the purpose of its policy.
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 225
Application process. The policy documents were examined to ascertain the influence
of the DOJ agreements, policy formation, and their effectiveness. In this analysis,
effectiveness was determined by whether there was a decrease in the number of excessive
force complaints or cases that involved force according to the police, DOJ reports, or the
city’s local news. Five cities reported a decrease in excessive force complaints. According
to both New Orleans’ and Albuquerque’s monitor reports, there was a decrease in the
number of excessive force complaints; however, the cities reported that officers were not
fully compliant with reporting such instances (Ginger, 2017; NOPD Consent Decree
Monitor, 2017, 2018).
Specifically, New Orleans reported a decrease in complaints from 413 to 203 (51%)
between 2014 and 2015 (NOPD Consent Decree Monitor, 2017). Albuquerque saw a
nearly 64% decrease in complaints from 756 in 2014 to 274 in 2015 (Ginger, 2017).
Baltimore’s Commissioner reported a 36% decrease in complaints from 146 in 2015 to 93
in 2016 (Davis, 2017). Seattle Police Department (SPD, 2019) provided a detailed report
of complaints by force levels. From 2017 to 2018, there was an increase of Level 1 force
(1,272 to 1,818) that was attributed to the increased complaints of pain and discomfort with
handcuffs (SPD, 2019). However, SPD (2019) reported a decrease in force Levels 2 and 3
force including officer-involved shootings (358 to 348 and 33 to 25, respectively) within
the same time period. Portland (PPB, 2017; 2018) did not report the number of complaints,
but rather the number of cases that involved force. The annual reports from 2016 and 2017
indicated that PPB saw a decrease in cases involving force from 755 to 721 (PPB, 2017;
2018). East Haven was the only city that terminated its consent decree due to full
compliance, deeming its use-of-force policy to be effective (East Haven Police, n.d.).
Conversely, three cities were not assessed for effectiveness. Cleveland, Ferguson, and
Maricopa County city officials, local news, and affiliates did not report or provide
information to the public indicating their use-of-force policy’s impact, or number of
excessive force complaints at the time of analysis; hence, the effectiveness of their policy’s
outcomes was undetermined. However, a consistent and stark difference among the three
cities was the lack of incorporated use-of-force models. Although East Haven police did
not incorporate a use-of-model, they met the requirements to end the consent decree. Most
of the cities that remain in a consent decree and have reported a decrease in use-of-force
complaints or cases have similar content in their policies. The exceptions are Albuquerque,
which does not define force and affiliated terms, New Orleans, which does not use an
aerosol irritant, and Portland, which does not prohibit the chokehold. Only Albuquerque,
Baltimore, and Cleveland require annual use-of-force training, though Cleveland did not
provide any record of effectiveness. A summary of the policies’ similarities and differences
are presented in Table 2.
For the cities that demonstrated a decrease in excessive force complaints and cases, a
closer examination of their use-of-force policy model was assessed. The level/type of force
model is used as a tool for investigative purposes, police documentation, and reporting
data. The researchers assessed the types of reportable force at each city's level (n = 5; see
Table 4). The remaining four cities have not adopted this model, nor published their
updated policy for public review. However, Ferguson did agree to commit to a use-of-force
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 226
model according to their agreement with the DOJ (United States of America v. The City of
Albuquerque, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Seattle identified their lowest level of force
as level/type one. As the use-of-force increased so did the categorization of force—levels
coincide with the amount of force used. Portland’s model used reversed numbering for the
type of force used. For example, their lowest amount of force is categorized as level-4 and
the most extreme use-of-force is considered level-1. New Orleans and Portland have four
levels of force while the other cities have three. Except for Portland, each city’s level-1 of
reportable force included soft takedowns and/or a threatening police presence. Level-2
essentially used more physical force with non-lethal weapons that may or may not result
in injury. Further, the top-tier level for most of the cities (level-4 for New Orleans) included
discharge of weapon and lethal force.
Budgets. Litigation regarding police misconduct often leads to payouts that can range
from several hundred thousand to several million dollars for one individual and can total
to hundreds of millions overtime for multiple victims (Avila & Marshall, 2014). The cost
to fully implement the recommendations by the DOJ in a consent decree varied widely by
city. The needs and resources of cities were not universal; therefore, each city indicated a
budget that included DOJ recommendations, associated special projects, equipment,
maintenance of data for police practices and policies, and any other federally mandated
programs to bring cities into compliance (Anderson, 2018; Broadwater, 2017; Madhani,
2016; NOPD Consent Decree Monitor, 2017).
Budgets ranged based on the needs and improvements of the departments including
use-of-force initiatives and other programs and could fluctuate between $1 million and $13
million. Table 2 displays the cost for each city and cost per 1,000 residents based on the
U.S. Census Bureau 2018 population estimates for each city (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019).
Ferguson had a notably higher cost per 1,000 residents since its estimated population was
20,730 compared to the other cities whose population ranged from over 300,000 to over
4.4 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019).
Evaluation. Overall, all policies emphasized the importance of accurate record-
keeping for use-of-force incidents to monitor the number of occurrences and determine
additional training needs and levels (APD, 2017; BPD, 2018; City of Ferguson, 2010; City
of Portland, Oregon, 2017; Cleveland Division of Police, 2018; Maricopa County Sheriff’s
Office, 2017; NOPD, 2015; Seattle Police, 2018). Since each city, apart from East Haven,
is currently in partnership with the DOJ, cities are continuously evaluated for their policy
compliance, its effectiveness, and areas of improvement. A noticeable trend in this analysis
was the decreased counts of use-of-force complaints and cases with cities that used a level-
of-force model, aside from Cleveland. Although use-of-force complaints and cases have
decreased in most reported police departments, cities are bound to a consent decree until
all concerns are resolved including issues outside of excessive force (i.e., technology
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 227
Table 4. Comparison of Use-of-Force Models Among Cities with Consent Decrees
Levels of Force
1. Low-level control tactics.
2. Officer presence.
3. Verbal communication to de-
4. Escort techniques.
5. Application of handcuffs or any
other approved restraints.
6. Show of force.
1. Intermediate force.
2. Empty hand tactics. Strikes, grabs, kicks,
takedowns, distraction techniques & proper
arrest techniques to control subject.
3. Use of leg sweeps, arm-bar takedowns, or prone
restraints to prevent imminent bodily harm,
overcome active or passive resistance.
4. Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray.
5. Baton or impact weapons using jabs or strikes.
6. Electronic control weapon.
7. Less than lethal impact munition.
1. Lethal force.
2. Discharge of firearm.
3. Strike to neck, head, or throat with hard
4. When lethal force is objectively
reasonable & necessary to protect the
lives of officers or others, officers may
use any tactics or weapons available.
5. Neck holds are prohibited except when
lethal force is authorized.
1. Physical force used to gain control
of person demonstrating active
resistance or aggressive behaviors
that does not result in actual or
2. Pointing a firearm or Conducted
Electrical Weapon (CEW).
3. “Cycling” a CEW as a form of
4. Forcible takedowns without
apparent injury or allegation of
1. Physical contact that results in injury or
complaint of injury with a suspect or arrestee.
2. Three or fewer CEW cycles during a single
encounter or operation of CEW in drive stun
3. Any application of OC spray or other chemical
4. Discharge of less-lethal launcher or munition.
5. Inflicted injury caused by canine.
6. Any strike, other than an intentional strike to
head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidney area
with an impact weapon.
7. Intentional striking of vehicle or subject with a
1. Deadly force or death of a person while in
2. Intentional & unintentional discharge of
3. Any force that caused great bodily injury
including injury resulting in hospital
admission, loss of consciousness, or
4. Strike to the head, neck, sternum, spine,
groin, or kidney with impact.
5. More than three CEW cycles during a
single encounter with individual.
6. Significant officer misconduct in the use-
1. Pointing a firearm or CEW.
2. Hand control or escort techniques
used as pressure point compliance
techniques that result in injury or
complaint of injury.
1. Use of CEW including missed attempts.
2. Use of impact weapon to strike individual but
no contact was made.
3. Use of baton for non-striking purposes.
4. Weaponless defense techniques.
1. Strike to the head except with an impact
2. Use of impact weapon with contact
except to the head regardless of injury.
3. Destruction of animal.
1. Use of lethal force.
2. Critical firearm discharge.
3. Force resulting in serious physical injury
4. Neck holds.
5. Force resulting in loss of consciousness.
6. Canine bites.
7. More than two applications of CEW in an
encounter or more than 15 seconds.
8. Any strike, blow, kick, CEW use, or
similar force against handcuffed subject.
9. Vehicle pursuit resulting in death, serious
physical injury, or injuries requiring
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 228
Table 4. Comparison of Use-of-Force Models Among Cities with Consent Decrees
Levels of Force
1. Force that is intended to establish
control of a restrained subject,
though not intended or reasonably
likely to cause persistent pain or
2. Non-striking use of baton.
3. Takedown performed in a
controlled manner with no injury.
4. Handcuffing against restraint.
5. Pointing of firearm.
6. Use of hobble restraint.
7. Firearm discharge to end suffering
of badly injured animal.
8. Boxing-in maneuver as a vehicle
1. Force that is reasonably likely to cause non-
enduring: pain, disorientation, physical injury,
or complaint of pain.
2. CEW deployment of 1 or 2 applications.
3. Use of aerosol restraints.
4. Chemical agents used by Special Emergency
Response Team (SERT).
5. Use of impact without injury.
6. Complaint of improper force.
7. CEW & launched impact munition without
9. Strikes with hands or feet.
10. Pursuit Intervention Techniques (PIT)
maneuver as a vehicle intervention strategy.
1. Force resulting in hospital admission or
2. More than one simultaneous intentional
3. Three or more CEW applications on one
4. CEW deployment on restricted persons.
5. CEW deployment on those with actual or
perceived mental illness or crisis.
6. Launched impact munition with contact.
7. Impact weapon with injury.
8. Firearm discharge to stop aggressive
9. Canine bites.
10. Takedowns that cause injury requiring
11. Riot control agents.
12. Force used on juveniles under 15.
13. Force used on pregnant individuals.
14. Force resulting in loss of consciousness.
15. Any strike, blow, kick, or similar force
against handcuffed or retained subject
with or without injury.
16. Ramming as a vehicle intervention
1. Deadly force.
2. All firearms discharged except when
necessary with animals.
3. In-custody deaths.
4. Death caused by force.
5. Carotid neck holds.
6. Intentional head, neck, throat strikes with
or against a hard object.
1. Actions which cause transitory pain,
disorientation, or intentional
pointing of firearm or bean bag
2. Used to control a person resisting
3. Soft takedowns, strike with force to
cause pain, or open hand technique.
1. Force that causes or is reasonable expected to
cause physical injury.
2. Hard takedowns.
3. Use of CEW, OC spray, impact weapon,
beanbag shotgun, deployment of K-9 with
injury or complaint of injury, vehicle & hobble
1. Force that cause great or substantial
bodily harm, loss of consciousness, or
Motorcycles, & impact weapon strikes to
2. Use of neck & carotid holds; stop sticks
*Note. Adapted from APB (2017); BPD (2018); City of Portland, Oregon (2017); NOPD (2015); SPD Manual (2017).
**Levels 1-4 were reverse coded for comparison.
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 229
One-third of cities identified in the consent decree analysis used excessive force against
African Americans and five used force against people of color. African Americans are
documented to live disproportionately in poor, high crime communities with a particular
vulnerability to police brutality (Brown, 2010; Brunson & Miller, 2006; Lawson, 2013).
As social workers, it is our duty to participate in social justice initiatives and promote social
change through policy examination and provide preventative fundamental solutions such
as advocacy and training (Reisch, 2016). Social work values include being mindful,
sensitive, and knowledgeable of cultural and ethnic diversity, individual differences and
oppressions; discourage discrimination through change efforts; and acknowledge the
importance of partnerships with others to drive change (NASW, 2017). By examining the
use-of-force policies, social workers uphold their commitment to enhance their knowledge
(NASW, 2017) and engage in effective interventions with the community they serve (Hill,
Fogel, Donaldson, & Erickson, 2017). For example, social workers Archibald, Daniels,
and Sinclair (2017) hosted a training session regarding cultural competency with their local
police department that was under a DOJ investigation for excessive force, and subsequently
held a conference with community members to inform them of the policing agenda where
both groups believed in the necessity of cultural competency training. With these values in
mind, the intent of this analysis on police departments’ use-of-force policies was to inform
social workers of the targeted populations, with attention given towards African
Americans, along with the current policies and their outcomes.
Findings from this analysis encourage social workers to advocate and demand police
departments to become and remain transparent with reports and use-of-force cases as a
form of accountability with reform and consent decree adherence. Knowing that reform is
initiated from unconstitutional practices as evidenced by the finding of the DOJ
investigations, social workers who engage in community work can empower individuals
to report incidents of perceived misconduct. Additionally, to bridge the trust between
community and police, social workers must garner innovative approaches that work
towards eliminating implicit bias from both the community and police. Examples include
working in partnership with police to host community and social events, focus groups, and
solution forums that require both parties to work together to find a solution to a pressing
issue or concern in their community. Proactive measures are necessary since the DOJ
intervention is not guaranteed depending on the criminal justice attitudes of a particular
Like previous studies, the use-of-force policies in this analysis shared many
commonalities; however, differences remained and there were some limitations in the
study approach. For instance, each agency offered statements of commitment to value and
protect human life in addition to a verbal warning before lethal force is used. Baltimore
City, Albuquerque, and Cleveland have further demonstrated their commitment to
addressing use-of-force concerns by adopting the requirements of annual de-escalation
training in their use-of-force policy (APD, 2017; BPD, 2018; Cleveland Division of Police,
2018). Also, this analysis implies that not all policies followed the recommendation of the
DOJ to apply a use-of-force model. Coincidentally, the cities that did not implement the
model also did not present any indication of reported effectiveness except for East Haven
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 230
which successfully fulfilled their agreement requirements. Some policies also did not
define force and their associated terms, prohibit chokehold when authorized, encourage
officers to perform de-escalation techniques, or allow aerosol irritant which promotes the
ongoing use-of-force and ambiguity. Another difference included the cost variations
between cities. Several cities announced the amount for a consent decree monitor while
other cities either shared their proposed or approved annual budget of total reform costs
that included training, salaries, audits, or equipment.
As a result, this analysis was unable to conduct a thorough cost evaluation because all
agencies did not provide final budgets for consent decree reform. Other limitations
included the sample size of the analysis and the ongoing agreements. As cities attempt to
comply with the DOJ agreement fully, there are continuous changes that affect the outcome
and alter the components of the analysis. Moreover, future implications should consider
re-examining the nine use-of-force policies two years post-compliance for effectiveness
measured by decreased complaints and costs in lawsuits derived from police use-of-force.
A closer examination ought to investigate additional factors that may cause excessive rates
of police use-of-force. These additional factors could include considering underlying or
additional social problems, like available resources or the lack thereof, economic concerns,
or untreated mental health issues in affected neighborhoods that contribute to increased
interactions with police. Social workers should continue to support the NASW (2016a)
agenda to encourage the DOJ to promote uniform standards and protocol for use-of-force
and cultural competency training.
This review of nine use-of-force policy documents demonstrates the diligence and
consideration of both the DOJ and respective police departments to amend the
inappropriate practices identified during their investigation. The development of the use-
of-force policies starts the breakdown of systemic discrimination and structural violence.
Not only do the policies detail force and its use, but it also holds individuals accountable
by providing an outline of appropriate behavior with an expectation to follow such
procedures that are legally binding. Although not clearly reflected within the policies, but
noted in the investigation reports and consent decrees, African Americans believed they
were specifically targeted because of their race and reported negative experiences with
police officers throughout the community (DOJ-CRD, 2011, 2014a, 2015, 2016). This
information apprises social work practice by demonstrating the continuing need to
construct a bridge between the two groups. Thus far, cities in agreement with the DOJ saw
more than 20% reduction in filed civil rights lawsuits that involved police use of excessive
force (Powell et al., 2017). Although there was not an immediate policy change after cities
entered an agreement, cities are continuously working to improve their behavior and
results. Cities could potentially mitigate their lawsuit costs by using more effective policing
that improves police practices and police-community relations.
Based on these policies and the content in the DOJ reports, social workers should
demand a presence in the reform process and provide training to officers given their unique
holistic approach and understanding of interpersonal relationships, communities, and
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 231
culture. Social workers should also take the initiative to include the affected community's
concern and input when hosting training sessions and serve as a liaison between agency
and community (Archibald et al., 2017).
Overall, police reform is not complete and is a continuous process. With the advocacy
efforts of social workers, the opportunities for unity and collaborative practices could begin
to alleviate the historical distrust among people of color and the criminal justice system
(Brunson & Miller, 2006; Correll et al., 2007; Desmond, Papachristos, & Kirk, 2016; Epp
et al., 2016; Shane et al., 2017) and foster more meaningful and productive police and
community engagement endeavors.
Adelson, J. (2017, June 19). Police watchdog agency raises questions about NOPD use of
force against African-Americans. The New Orleans Advocate. Retrieved from
Albuquerque Police Department. (2017). Procedural orders: Use of force. Retrieved
American Civil Liberties Union. (2012). Island of impunity: Puerto Rico’s outlaws police
force. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/report/island-impunity-puerto-ricos-
Anderson, J. (2018, January 30). How the Baltimore police consent decree monitor will
spend $1.475 million this year. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from
Archibald, P., Daniels, K, &. Sinclair, M. (2017). Social work analysis of social change
reflecting the dichotomous realities of Baltimore City. Urban Social Work, 1(1), 5-
19. doi: https://doi.org/10.1891/2474-86126.96.36.199
Avila, J., & Marshall, S. (2014, November 17). US cities (and taxpayers) paying
millions in police misconduct settlements. ABC News. Retrieved from
Baltimore Police Department. (2018). Policies. Retrieved from
Boehmke, F. J., Matthews Rury, A., Desmarais, B. H., & Harden, J. J. (2017). The seeds
of policy change: Leveraging diffusion to disseminate policy innovations. Journals of
Health Politics, Policy, & Law, 42(2), 285-307.
Broadwater, L. (2017, March 30). Pugh budget includes tax cut, more funding for
Baltimore schools, police. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 232
Brown, G. (2010). The wind cries Mary—the intersectionality of race, gender, and
reentry: Challenges for African-American women. St. John’s Journal of Legal
Commentary, 24(4), 625-648.
Brunson, R. K., & Miller, J. (2006). Gender, race, and urban policing: The experience of
African American youth. Gender and Society, 20(4), 531-552.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (n.d.). Use of force. Retrieved from
Bush, M., & Gallagher, M. (2014, April 9). DOJ reform could cost Albuquerque millions.
Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved https://www.abqjournal.com/381173/apd-reform-
Carter, J. S., & Corra, M. (2016). Racial resentment and attitudes toward the use of force
by police: An over-time trend analysis. Sociological Inquiry, 86(4), 492-511.
Chindarkar, N., Howlett, M., & Ramesh, M. (2017). Introduction to the special issue:
“Conceptualizing effective social policy design: Design spaces and capacity
challenges.” Public Administration & Development, 37(1), 3-14.
City of Albuquerque. (2018). Proposed budget fiscal year 2019. Retrieved from
City of Ferguson. (n.d.). Moving Ferguson forward. Retrieved from
City of Ferguson. (2010). Use of lethal and less-lethal weapons use of force continuum.
Retrieved from https://www.fergusoncity.com/DocumentCenter/View/2620
City of Portland, Oregon. (2017). Use of force. Retrieved from
Cleveland City Council. (2016). City council adopts balanced budget for 2016. Retrieved
Cleveland Division of Police. (2018). General police order: Use of force—general.
Colebatch, H. K. (2009). Policy (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education
Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M., Wittenbrink, B., Sadler, M. S., & Keesee, T. (2007).
Across the thin blue line: Police officers and racial bias in the decision to
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 233
shoot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1006-1023.
Danilina, S. (n.d.). What is police brutality? In The law dictionary (2nd ed.). Retrieved
Davis, K. (2017). The police commissioner’s 2016 report of the Baltimore Police
Department [2016 Report]. Retrieved from https://www.baltimorepolice.org/police-
Davis, R. C., Henderson, N. J., Mandelstam, J., Ortiz, C. W., & Miller, J. (2002). Federal
intervention in local policing: Pittsburgh’s experience with a consent decree. U.S.
Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved
DeBerry, J. (2016, April 25). Better training for police costs less than settling with
brutality victims. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from
Desmond, M., Papachristos, A. V., & Kirk, D. S. (2016). Police violence and citizen
crime reporting in the Black community. American Sociological Review, 81(5), 857-
876. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122416663494
DiBattista, M. S. (2017). A force to be reckoned with: Confronting the (still) unresolved
questions of excessive force jurisprudence after Kingsley. Columbia Human Rights
Law Review, 48(2), 203-256.
East Haven Police. (n.d.). Federal judge terminates consent decree, dismisses case
between town of East Haven and department of justice. Retrieved from
East Haven Police Department. (2014). Use of force. Retrieved from
Epp, C. R., Maynard-Moody, S., & Haider-Markel, D. (2016). Beyond profiling: The
institutional sources of racial disparities in policing. Public Administration Review,
77(2), 168-178. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12702
Gilbert, N., Ahrweiler, P., Barbrook-Johnson, P., Narasimhan, K. P., & Wilkinson, H.
(2018). Computational modeling of public policy: Reflections on practice. Journal of
Artificial Societies & Social Stimulation, 21(1), 1-19.
Gilling, D., & Barton, A. (1997). Crime prevention and community safety: A new home
for social policy? Critical Social Policy, 17(52), 63-83.
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 234
Ginger, J. D. (2017). Monitor’s report: Outcome assessments for APD’s casa
implementation response: A quantitative and qualitative assessment and analysis.
Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/usao-nm/page/file/991201/download
Goff, P. A., Lloyd, T., Geller, A., Raphael, S., & Glaser, J. (2016). The science of justice:
Race, arrest, and police use of force. Retrieved from http://policingequity.org/wp-
Gupta, A. (2013). Structural violence and politics. Economy & Society, 42(4), 686-692.
Harris, C. J. (2010). Problem officers? Analyzing problem behavior patterns from a large
cohort. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, 216-225.
Hill, K., Fogel, S., Donaldson, L. P., & Erickson, C. (2017). State definitions of social
work practice: Implications for our professional identity. Journal of Evidence-
Informed Social Work, 14(4), 266-279.
Hirschfeld, K. (2017). Rethinking 'structural violence'. Society, 54(2), 156-162.
Kelly. K., Childress, S., & Rich, S. (2015, November 13). Forced reforms, mixed results.
The Washington Post. Retrieved from
Kiefer, M. (2016, May 16). Maricopa County approves tentative 2.3b budget, including
more money for Arpaio suit. The Arizona Republic. Retrieved from
Klinger, D. A. (2012). Police training as an instrument of accountability. Saint Louis
University Public Law Review, 32(1), 111-121.
Lacoe, J., & Stein, J. (2018). Exploring the policy implications of high-profile police
violence. Criminology & Public Policy, 17(4), 859-863.
Lawson, T. F. (2013). Powerless against police brutality: A felon's story. St. Thomas Law
Review, 25, 218-243.
Leibson Hawkins, R. (2005). From self-sufficiency to personal and family sustainability:
A new paradigm for social policy. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 32(4),
Llana, S. M. (2015, June 29). In many countries, police rarely use their guns. Here's why.
Takepart. Retrieved from http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/06/29/many-
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 235
Lomotey, K., Jackson, P. B., Adem, M., Ruf, P. X., Copeland, V. C., Huerta, A.,
...Brown, D. (2016). People of color in the United States: Contemporary issues in
education, work, communities, health, and immigration. Santa Barbara, CA:
MacDonald, J., & Stokes, R. J. (2006). Race, social, capital, and trust in the police. Urban
Affairs Review, 41(3), 358-375. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1078087405281707
Madhani, A. (2016, February 08). Ferguson: DOJ consent decree could cost city nearly
$10m. USA Today. Retrieved from
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. (2017). Policy and procedures: Use of force.
Retrieved from https://www.mcso.org/documents/Policy/Critical/CP-1.pdf
McElvain, J. P., & Kposowa, A. J. (2008). Police officer characteristics and the
likelihood of using deadly force. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35(4), 505-521.
Meese, E., & Malcolm, J. G. (2017). Policing in America: Lessons from the past,
opportunities for the future (Special Report 194). Retrieved from
National Association of Social Workers [NASW]. (2016a). NASW calls for policing
reforms in aftermath of shootings in Oklahoma, North Carolina. Retrieved from
NASW. (2016b). NASW social justice priorities 2016-2017. Retrieved from
NASW. (2017). NASW code of ethics. Retrieved from
National Council on Crime & Delinquency. (n.d.). Monitoring of the Antelope Valley
settlement agreement. Retrieved from
New Orleans Police Department [NOPD]. New Orleans police department 2019 budget
presentation. Retrieved from
NOPD. (2015). New Orleans police department operations manual. Retrieved from
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 236
NOPD Consent Decree Monitor. (2017). Special report of the consent decree monitor for
the New Orleans police department consent decree on NOPD uses of force
(Document No. 517). Retrieved from
NOPD Consent Decree Monitor. (2018). 2017 Annual report of the consent decree
monitor for the New Orleans police department consent decree April 10, 2018
(Document No. 550-1). Retrieved from
Police Brutality. (2003). In Dictionary of American history. Retrieved from
Portland Police Bureau [PPB]. (2015). Budget submission. Retrieved from
PPB. (2017). PPB force analysis summary report (2017). Retrieved from
PPB. (2018). PPB force analysis summary report 2017 annual. Retrieved from
Powell, Z. A., Meitl, M. B., & Worrall, J. L. (2017). Police consent decrees and section
1983 civil rights litigation. Criminology and Public Policy, 16(2), 575-605.
Reisch, M. (2016). Why macro practice matters. Journal of Social Work Education,
52(3), 258-268. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2016.1174652
Seattle Police. (2018). Use of force annual report. Retrieved from
Seattle Police Department Manual [SPD]. (2017). Use of force core principles. Retrieved
SPD. (2019). Seattle police use of force annual report. Retrieved from
Shane, J. M., Lawton, B., & Swenson, Z. (2017). The prevalence of fatal shootings by
U.S. police, 2015-2016: Patterns and answers from a new data set. Journal of
Criminal Justice, 52, 101-111. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2017.05.001
Stolberg, S. G. (2017, April 09). ‘It did not stick’: The first federal effort to curb police
abuse. The New York Times. Retrieved from
Rhodes et al./ CONSENT DECREES 237
Stone, C., Foglesong, T., & Cole, C.M. (2009). Policing Los Angeles under a consent
decree: The dynamics of change at the LAPD. Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved
Swift, D. W. (2004). A state’s power to enter into a consent decree that violates state law
provisions: What “findings” of a federal violation are sufficient to justify a consent
decree that trumps state law? Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, 10(1),
U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Population. Retrieved from
U. S. Department of Justice [US DOJ]. (1999). National data collection on police use of
force. Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ndcopuof.pdf
US DOJ. (2003). Principles of good policing: Avoiding violence between police and
citizens. Retrieved from
US DOJ. (2017). An interactive guide to the civil rights division’s police reform.
Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/922456/download
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division [DOJ-CRD]. (2011). Investigation of
the New Orleans police department. Retrieved from
US DOJ-CRD. (2014a). Investigation of the Cleveland division of police. Retrieved from
US DOJ-CRD. (2014b). Investigation of the Newark police department. Retrieved from
US DOJ-CRD. (2015). Investigation of the Ferguson police department. Retrieved from
US DOJ-CRD. (2016). Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department. Retrieved
United States of America v. The City of Ferguson, No. 4:16-cv-000180-CDP (April 19,
Van Engen, N., Tummers, L., Bekkers, V., & Steijn, B. (2016). Bringing history in:
Policy accumulation and general policy alienation. Public Management Review,
18(7), 1085-1106. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2015.1088568
Van Sluytman, L. (2017). Oh Baltimore: Incarceration and re-entry in marginalized
communities. Critical Social Work, 18(1), 25-45.
ADVANCES IN SOCIAL WORK, Spring 2019, 19(1) 238
Wilson, M. H. (2015). The role of racial profiling in encounters with law enforcement.
Retrieved from http://www.socialworkblog.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Role-of-
Author note: Address correspondence to: Dasha Rhodes, LMSW, School of Social
Work, Morgan State University, 1700 E. Cold Spring Ln, Rm 344 Baltimore, MD 21251.