Police officers occupy a critical role in American society. They are charged with upholding the law, addressing and mitigating crime, and most importantly, serving their communities effectively. The considerable authority inherent in local law enforcement allows police officers the privilege of earning the trust and respect of the community members who comprise their constituencies. Yet, at times, the very officers charged with serving our communities venture far beyond the scope of their authority into the realm of blatant abuse; in the most heinous cases, officers exact abusive and discriminatory conduct upon the very constituents they swore to protect and serve. This conduct not only causes communities to distrust police, but it may also violate federal anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which bans racial discrimination by recipients of federal funds.

 

The National Police Funding Database, a first-of-its-kind portal by the Thurgood Marshall Institute, gives members of the public the tools to identify federal funding for over 150 local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The database provides funding data from 2007 to the present along with demographic data on the racial and ethnic composition of each included city or county. Where available, it also provides data on police misconduct complaints filed by individuals, police consent decrees, and settlement amounts paid related to police misconduct and other incidents. Communities can use this information to support demands for accountability for law enforcement agencies believed to be engaged in discriminatory or otherwise unlawful conduct.

 

The database augments the work of our Policing Reform Campaign and was made possible by a grant from the Democracy Fund.

The National Police Funding Database: An Instrument for Accountability

The beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, California in 1991 was among the most notorious incidents of police misconduct and excessive force of the 20th century. The Christopher Commission Report, released in the months following Mr. King’s beating, illustrated that police brutality was far more ubiquitous than many Americans might have imagined. But now, in the digital age, the proliferation of social media users, coupled with the video capabilities of smartphones, has projected innumerable incidents of police misconduct to our phones, computers, and television screens, ultimately catapulting them to the world stage.[1]

A burning building during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. The rioting followed the acquittal of the police officers who had been videotaped beating Rodney King. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)

These incidents—and countless others that go unaddressed—as well as the rising militarization of municipal police departments,[2] contribute to local police forces appearing to some community members as occupying forces, rather than publicly-financed agents for the civic good. At the same time, some federal officials have engaged in dangerous rhetoric, with certain statistical trends suggesting a correlation between the rhetoric and increasing incidents of hate crime.[3] And, as our Policing Reform Campaign has documented, racial disparities in law enforcement practices are rampant in communities across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) currently provides millions annually in grants to local police departments, many with a track record of systemic discriminatory conduct. In 2018 alone, over $269 million in funding was available to states and territories for criminal justice programs and law enforcement agencies through the federal government’s primary grant program, the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program. Police departments use these funds for a wide range of policing activities and equipment, including hiring new officers and purchasing body-worn cameras.

Before receiving federal grant funds, law enforcement agencies must confirm that they will comply with civil rights laws, such as Title VI. 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. Title VI is not limited to federal grants. It also applies to any federal money, equipment, or other resources received by law enforcement agencies. Title VI protects against both discrimination against an individual and groups of individuals by a law enforcement agency. It also covers a variety of discriminatory conduct, including the use of racial slurs, failure to provide translation services to individuals who have limited English proficiency, and discriminatory police traffic stops and use of force. Law enforcement agencies that violate Title VI and do not comply with the law voluntarily are at risk of losing their federal funds.

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 DOJ grant funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex in their programs and activities. Various remedies are available under these statutes including changes to law enforcement policies and practices.

We encourage you to use the National Police Funding Database to hold your local police departments accountable to you, your family, and your neighbors. Below, we describe the data included on the site and how communities can use this information to promote fair and accountable policing practices.

How to Use the National Police Funding Database

You can use the information retrieved from the database in the following ways:

  1. After identifying a particular grant that you are interested in, you may want to learn more about how the grant funds are being used. You can request this information by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to DOJ. Here is an example of such a request. You can also request a copy of a particular grant through your state’s open records laws. More information about these laws is available here from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, including sample request letters.

      Once you are knowledgeable about how grant funds should be used, you can determine if your            local government and police department are investing in the right things in your community to            maintain public safety.

  1. If you believe that your local police department discriminated against you or a group of individuals based on race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability in violation of Title VI, Section 504, or the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 as described above, you can file an administrative complaint with DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

While it is difficult to prove discrimination, filing a complaint with OCR is an important policing reform measure for two reasons. First, OCR has found evidence of discrimination by a law enforcement agency based on disability and required the agency to change its practices. It has also concluded that the failure of a law enforcement agency to maintain a process for individuals to file complaints of officer misconduct could have discriminatory effects on racial and ethnic minorities and other protected classes in violation of Title VI and other civil rights laws.  

 

Second, even in cases where OCR does not find discrimination, it could make recommendations to law enforcement agencies on how to improve their services to ensure that they do not violate Title VI and similar laws.  

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Fair and lawful policing practices are critical to racial justice and public safety. The Thurgood Marshall Institute encourages you to use the National Police Funding Database to monitor how your tax dollars are spent for law enforcement services and to engage with your local law enforcement agency to ensure full compliance with civil rights laws. Collectively, we can incentivize our police departments and their officers to uphold their commitments to protect and serve.

 

If you have any comments or questions about the National Police Funding Database, please reach out to us at policefundingdatabase@naacpldf.org.

Disclaimer for National Police Funding Database

The data and information included on the National Police Funding Database are gathered using an application programming interface (API) or are obtained from publicly available sources. The API pulls data from the websites of government-operated agencies and publishes it on this database unaltered. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Thurgood Marshall Institute (Institute) cannot verify the accuracy of any reported data. The data and information provided herein are solely intended to be educational tools and do not constitute the provision of legal advice, nor do they establish any attorney-client relationship with LDF or the Institute.

[1] Heather Timmons, The US is too racist and violent to criticize other countries on human rights, China says, Quartz (Mar. 11, 2016), https://qz.com/636918/the-us-is-too-racist-and-violent-to-criticize-other-countries-on-human-rights-china-says/.
[2] Ryan Welch & Jack Mewhirter, Does military equipment lead police officers to be more violent? We did the research, Wash. Post. (June 30, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/30/does-military-equipment-lead-police-officers-to-be-more-violent-we-did-the-research/.
[3] Ayal Feinberg, Regina Branton & Valerie Martinez-Ebers, Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes, Wash. Post. (Mar. 22, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/03/22/trumps-rhetoric-does-inspire-more-hate-crimes/.