Justice Department ends years-long investigation
By Jeff Simms
More than a decade after the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation of the Beacon Police Department following allegations of brutality by its officers, the agency has released the department from its oversight.
“It was a little more challenging than I’d expected” to get out from under federal oversight, Chief Douglas Solomon told the City Council last month. “The release indicates we’ve been in substantial compliance with their recommendations for at least 18 months.”
Those recommendations were part of a settlement agreement reached between the city and the Department of Justice in 2010 in which the agency gave Beacon police rules to follow regarding the use of force, the type and quantity of ammunition carried by officers, its system for handing public complaints and officer training methods, among other issues.
As part of the agreement, the DOJ was given ongoing access to the department to ensure compliance. The oversight lasted for several years, but Solomon, who was hired in 2012, said the agency found no evidence of wrongdoing by Beacon officers.
After he became chief, Solomon said DOJ officials conducted an on-site review of the department and concluded that it was following the 2010 recommendations. Then, the Beacon police had to demonstrate long-term compliance. That was accomplished this year and on Aug. 9 the agency said it had ended its investigation.
While DOJ involvement is somewhat rare in cities the size of Beacon, Solomon said that “now, more than ever, they’ve got more agencies under their watchful eye because of the trends of what’s going on in the country.”
Last year an analysis by Bloomberg News found the Justice Department has investigated 67 police departments since 1994, including those in Los Angeles, New York City and Cleveland. But the agency also investigated forces in a number of much smaller locales such as Alabaster, Alabama, and Steubenville, Ohio.
If the Justice Department has reason to believe a police department needs to be monitored, it often first issues a “technical assistance letter,” which the Beacon police received in June 2005. It contained nearly a dozen pages of specific recommendations — many of which would be repeated in the 2010 settlement agreement — regarding officers’ use of force, weapons and canines. Several additional pages listed guidelines for processing complaints.
Exactly how and why the investigation began is not clear. The Justice Department’s oversight predates Chief Solomon by almost a decade, and a DOJ spokesperson said the department typically does not comment on what prompts its investigations. However, news reports from the early 2000s noted a number of brutality lawsuits had been filed against the city.
While Solomon could not comment on specific incidents, he said the process was beneficial in the long run. “Whether the accusations had any teeth to them or not, at the end of the day the department is in a better place,” he said.