Confronting Police Misconduct

March Madness, Katrina and the culture of coverups.

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The Justice Department should undertake a comprehensive national review of police misconduct, confront police unions that regularly close ranks and pressure elected officials to refrain from calling out incidents of abuse and provide federal funds for better police training, and financial incentives for police departments who punish rather than close ranks around abusive officers. We need to instill a culture of transparency, of disclosure and of strong, public responses to police abuse. We need testimony like Michael Hunter's when these events are first investigated, not five years after the shootings took place. And it should be remembered that Hunter only resigned from the New Orleans Police force late last month--the day after he was arrested by federal authorities.

The federal government has a part to play in promoting a new culture of transparency on state and local police forces. It is the power of the purse--perhaps even more than the power of Justice Department oversight--that is the federal government's strongest tool in transforming the culture of coverup that pervades too many police forces, and that abuses not only individual victims, but our entire system of justice.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a regular contributor to The Root.

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is a civil rights lawyer and professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.