DOJ Launches Discrimination Investigation Into Worcester Police Department

Justice Department announced today that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the Worcester Police Department
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Photo: Screenshot\Worcester Police Department

The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the Worcester Police Department (WPD). This civil investigation will assess whether WPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force or engages in discriminatory policing based on race or sex. The investigation will include a comprehensive review of policies, procedures, trainings, investigatory files and data. The investigation will also include a review of WPD’s systems of accountability, including its systems to address misconduct complaints and discipline. The department will also evaluate how WPD officers interact with the public, collect evidence and complete investigations.

“Based on information provided to the Justice Department, we find significant justification to investigate whether the Worcester Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of racially discriminatory and gender-biased policing, and uses excessive force,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Ensuring that our law enforcement officers act in a constitutional and non-discriminatory manner is among the highest priorities of the Department of Justice. Our pattern or practice investigations are a key tool in our efforts to ensure community safety and promote constitutional policing across the country. We look forward to working with officials towards the shared goals of ensuring constitutional, effective policing and fostering greater trust between law enforcement officers and the community members they serve.”

“The City of Worcester is a thriving and vital part of our district and we work closely every day with its Police Department,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins for the District of Massachusetts. “WPD officers have a challenging job of ensuring the safety of the Worcester community. This often means responding to or encountering tense and at times dangerous conflicts and situations. I am well aware that the overwhelming majority of officers serve and do their jobs with honor, pride, restraint and distinction. The purpose of this civil investigation is to determine – through objective and thorough examination – whether or not there is an overall pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law. This is the beginning of the process. We will go where the facts take us. You will hear from me at the end of the investigation, irrespective of outcome. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that policing in Worcester is constitutional, safe, and effective all while the civil rights of their residents remain intact. We thank the City of Worcester, and specifically Chief Sargent, for their cooperation and collaboration in this matter.”

The investigation is being conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law. The statute allows the department to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation. The Justice Department will be assessing law enforcement practices under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as under the Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This is the second investigation of a Massachusetts law enforcement agency conducted pursuant to this statute. In 2018, the Justice Department opened an investigation of the Springfield Police Department, which was resolved by a consent decree in 2022.

Prior to this announcement, department officials informed Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, Worcester Acting City Manager Eric Batista and Worcester Police Chief Steven Sargent of the investigation. They pledged to cooperate with the investigation. As part of this investigation, the department officials will reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with WPD.

The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts will jointly conduct this investigation. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the Department of Justice via email at [email protected] or by toll free phone at 888-221-6023. Individuals can also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters using the Civil Rights Division’s reporting portal, available at https://civilrights.justice.gov/.

Information specific to the Civil Rights Division’s Police Reform Work can be found here: https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/922421/download.

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