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Virginia Law Review

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local policing, racial discrimination, excessive use of force, surveillance


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law | Law Enforcement and Corrections


For far too long, the federal government has failed to exercise its constitutional authority to mitigate the harms imposed by local policing. Absent federal intervention, though, some harmful aspects of policing will not be addressed effectively, or at all. States and localities often lack the necessary capacity and expertise to change policing, and many states and localities lack the will. This Article argues for federal intervention and describes what that intervention should look like.

The Article begins by describing three paradigmatic areas of local policing that require federal intervention to create real change: excessive use offorce, racial discrimination, and the unregulated use of surveillance technologies. Because state and local governments are either unable or unwilling to address these problems alone, the federal government should intervene to identfy and enforce minimum standards, develop best practices, collect data, and distribute resources nationwide.

Regrettably, Congress has failed to act adequately to improve local policing for the better, although it has tried to encourage reform through the use of its Spending Power. This Article argues that Congress should utilize its regulatory powers under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause to address these paradigmatic problem areas, and it explains how this can be done consistently with Supreme Court doctrine.

Alongside--or in the absence of--congressional action, the executive branch has the power and responsibility to act to address policing's harms. The Article explains that, though indirect, the President wields considerable power to influence policing by setting policy, implementing federal programs, enforcing civil rights, and supervising federal law enforcement. Although the executive branch should use this power to promote local policing that is effective, fair, and accountable, and that minimizes harm, administration after administration has failed to do so consistently and also has failed to holdfederal law enforcement to these standards. Recent executive branch efforts have improved the situation, but there still exists a gaping chasm between how the federal government should be influencing local policing and how it is doing so today.



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