Lessons Learned from Pattern or Practice Investigations


April 2022


November 2023




The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA)


The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) enlisted us to analyze the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) pattern or practice investigations. By way of background, consent decrees, authorized by the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, give DOJ’s Civil Rights Division the authority to investigate local law enforcement agencies that may be engaging in unconstitutional policing practices.

This study aimed to identify opportunities for law enforcement agencies to proactively enhance policies, training, and more, with the ultimate goal of better outcomes for both police and the communities they serve.

This will enable law enforcement executives to identify and address these types of concerns proactively and ensure they are delivering a just and high level of service to constituents in their jurisdictions.


Policing in the 21st century brings unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Knowing where to focus is vital—especially when it comes to ensuring constitutional policing practices. By examining DOJ findings and reports, we explored how agencies caught the attention of DOJ, why investigations began, and their findings. We identified common themes across the investigations and compiled DOJ’s recommendations.


Our research team examined the content of 19 investigative reports and findings letters from pattern or practice investigations initiated by DOJ between 2010 and 2022. During this timeframe, 27 investigations were eligible for inclusion in the analysis; however, a systematic search for available documents on these cases revealed that DOJ published an investigative report and/or findings letter for only 19 of them.

While analyzing the reports, we aimed to identify:

the events and organizational factors that precede an investigation;

the issues most commonly examined by pattern or practice investigators;

the investigative process and methodological approaches used to identify patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing;

the evidence cited to support observations of unconstitutional policing; and

the remedial measures outlined by DOJ to address unconstitutional policing practices.


Released in a full-length report in October 2023, the research team outlined their findings across 19 pattern or practice investigations, identifying common themes and key takeaways for law enforcement executives working to establish and maintain constitutional policing practices. 


This study has concluded. Upon its release, the findings were presented to the Major Cities Chiefs Association and shared with its over seventy members. The key takeaways will be communicated with law enforcement agencies nationwide to facilitate excellence in policing.