On April 23, 2021, LDF called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to suspend federal funding to local law enforcement agencies until the Department of Justice can ensure that agencies receiving grants and funding from the DOJ are not violating the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Every year, law enforcement agencies across the country receive millions of dollars from the federal government. In 2018 alone, $269 million was available to criminal justice programs, including law enforcement agencies. To receive federal funds and resources, law enforcement agencies are required to comply civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and services by recipients of federal financial assistance, including state and local law enforcement agencies.
Law enforcement agencies that violate Title VI and do not comply with the law voluntarily should not be eligible for the receipts of federal grants and funds. But many police departments with documented patterns of violence against communities of color and racial disparities in policing practices have continued to receive federal funding.
Since President Biden was inaugurated, 40 Black people have been killed by law enforcement officials. Seventeen have been killed since Attorney General Garland’s confirmation. The police killings of people of color in recent weeks are stark reminders of the ease with which police deploy deadly force and the reality of police violence in Black and Brown communities. Their deaths are not outliers or anomalies, but part of a longstanding pattern of brutality and violence that characterizes policing in the United States. The ongoing police violence makes clear that the system is fundamentally broken, and urgent action is required.
Title VI is a key provision and protection of the Civil Rights Act. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and services by recipients of federal financial assistance, including state and local law enforcement agencies. Title VI is not limited to federal grants. It also applies to any federal money, equipment, or other resources received by law enforcement agencies.
Other federal laws that prohibit discrimination by recipients of federal funds include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 bans discrimination against individuals with disabilities in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 bans recipients of grant funds from the Department of Justice from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex in their programs and activities.
Under Title VI, federal funding gives recipient agencies a civil rights obligation and functions as leverage to ensure compliance with federal civil rights laws. Law enforcement agencies that violate Title VI by discriminating against Black communities, for example, or do not comply voluntarily risk losing their federal funds. Yet, some departments have paid out millions in local funds to resolve claims of police misconduct involving people of color, and others have entered into consent decrees with the Department of Justice to address discriminatory policing.
Our National Police Funding Database provides publicly available data on the federal grants awarded to over 150 law enforcement agencies across the nation, along with demographic information for those jurisdictions. It provides, where available, information on police misconduct complaints filed by individuals, consent decrees, and settlement amounts. Communities can use this information to support demands for accountability for law enforcement agencies believed to be engaged in discriminatory practices.
The lack of oversight, enforcement, and clearly defined protocol has allowed police departments to escape accountability for misconduct. Police accountability requires a rigorous assessment of the federal government’s role in financing police departments that may engage in discriminatory practices and violence. We need the DOJ to review its existing Title VI protocols and ensure that the process designed to determine whether the discriminatory practices of particular departments make them ineligible for receiving federal funding. All funding to state and local law enforcement agencies should be suspended until that review process is complete, and the DOJ can affirmatively ensure that these departments are not violating the non-discrimination requirements of Title VI.