What is a pattern or practice investigation?

A federal review of a law-enforcement agency that looks for patterns of misconduct or systemic practices that lead to misconduct. Past investigations elsewhere have focused on allegations of excessive force and racial or ethnic discrimination in traffic or pedestrian stops.

How does the federal Department of Justice decide which agencies to investigate?

Investigators interview the complainants, as well as community advocates and lawyers who work with the law-enforcement agency, and review published reports about lawsuits or other issues.

How common is this type of inquiry?

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Over the past several years, the DOJ has done about 70 preliminary inquiries; of those, about two or three patterns or practices investigations are launched each year. The DOJ is now investigating 14 law-enforcement agencies around the country, including Suffolk.

What do investigators look for?

They conduct interviews with police commanders, union leaders, alleged victims of police misconduct, lawyers and community leaders and officers; evaluate the department's education and training programs; review written policies for monitoring and supervising officers; and analyze how the department receives, investigates and resolve citizen complaints.

How are these investigations generally resolved?

Of 10 settlements negotiated before January 2003, four have ended in court orders, and six have led to out-of-court settlements that are court-enforceable. The aim is to reform police practices to correct whatever was causing the misconduct. In extreme cases, usually involving police brutality, officers can be prosecuted.