Legal Remedies for Police Misconduct

Rachel A. Harmon

F.D.G. Ribble Professor of Law, University of Virginia
Reforming Criminal Justice Vol. 2

Federal courts have limited the legal remedies for constitutional violations in policing to the point that they do not discourage police misconduct to the satisfaction of many communities. States and police departments impose additional penalties on police officers who violate the law, but only inconsistently, leading communities to distrust these solutions as well. Yet, because there are so many mechanisms for scrutinizing police conduct, officers often feel overregulated. Policymakers and legislators cannot change all of the obstacles to using litigation to improve policing. But by making it easier and less expensive for departments to adopt helpful reforms, by encouraging community input into police policymaking, and by supporting research, data collection, and transparency in policing, they can promote policing practices that protect rights and build community trust. In these ways, policymakers and legislators can improve police accountability, even as courts make it harder for private citizens and public officials to use legal remedies to do so.