From Ferguson to Baltimore to Chicago, the Obama Justice Dept. investigated local law enforcement agencies and developed binding agreements to ensure policy, practice, and behavioral reforms are enacted to protect the federal civil rights of the communities these police agencies serve.
But in a two-page memo issued by Trump Attorney General Sessions Monday, all those reform agreements will be reviewed, and possibly altered.
The memo was released not long before the department’s civil rights lawyers asked a federal judge to postpone until at least the end of June a hearing on a sweeping police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, with the Baltimore Police Department that was announced just days before President Trump took office.
The Sessions memo also raised anew the specter that cities and states whose law enforcement agencies accept federal monies from the Justice Department could see a cut off if they do not adhere to federal laws.
“We will continue to pursue outcomes that both protect the civil rights of all community members and preserve the safety of law enforcement officers, ” he said in a statement.
During his presidential campaign, Trump said that Black Lives Matter was “essentially calling death to the police”, and Sessions is a law-and-order zealot who indicated immediately after his appointment that the DOJ would stop its independent monitoring of police departments like Baltimore’s. “We can only speak for our intentions, we can’t speak for the federal government’s”, they said.
The city agreed in principle to negotiate a consent decree under which reforms would be monitored by the Justice Department, and enforced by the courts.
The Obama administration took the opposite view. Mayor Ed Murray recently laid out plans for additional police oversight, including the establishment of a permanent Community Police Commission.
Maybe Sessions isn’t reading reports, which gives little hope for an impartial response to any “reviews”.
On Tuesday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he has already implemented some reforms outlined in a proposed agreement with the federal government, including updating the department’s use-of-force policy, outfitting officers with body-worn cameras and doubling the hours of mandatory training. In some cases, later investigations showed that police had acted properly, while in other instances criminal charges were filed against police officers for the excessive use of force.
A Chicago pastor and retired police officer, Richard Wooten, said activists would hold Emanuel and other city officials accountable to push reforms despite the Sessions order. “They are only issued after careful study, review, and approval by a federal judge, often after a determination that law enforcement acted in an unconstitutional manner”, Henderson said.
It doesn’t matter that these investigations happened under a different administration, the work and integrity of a Justice Department investigation should be enough for Sessions to leave the consent decrees in place as a protection for US citizens. The Washington Post first reported on the memo.
But there are cities where that simply isn’t possible and some sort of action by the Justice Department is called for.
Officials in Baltimore and Chicago are ready to go ahead with police reforms despite signals that the Trump Administration is willing to forgo pending federal agreements that would enforce changes.
“We want to move forward”, Pugh told The Associated Press. And in case it’s not clear who’s going to fill those prisons, Sessions is proving Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren right by ordering the Justice Department to begin reviewing every single Obama-era police reform that arose from DOJ investigations uncovering a systemic culture of racism and constitutional violations in departments across the country.