Sessions tells DOJ to revisit Obama-era agreements with local police departments

Sessions tells DOJ to revisit Obama-era agreements with local police departments

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions [official profile] issued a memorandum [text, PDF] on Monday, ordering the Department of Justice [DOJ, official website] to undertake a comprehensive review of all police reform activities issued during the Obama administration.

In a two-page memo released Monday, Sessions said agreements reached previously between the department's civil rights division and local police departments - a key legacy of the Obama administration - will be subject to review by his two top deputies, throwing into question whether all of the agreements will stay in place.

The requested hearing delay could interrupt the process of overhauling the policies of the Baltimore Police Department, which came to an agreement on a consent decree with outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier this year.

The Justice Department's motion cited President Donald J. Trump's executive order in February calling on the department "to prioritize crime reduction" and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' formation of a task force to ensure that the agency is using its resources to push that agenda.

The Baltimore Police Department is continuing to move forward with reforms related to the forthcoming consent decree for the overall progress of the city of Baltimore. The Justice Department has asked for a 90-day delay on this consent decree.

The president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP, which has always been critical of how Cleveland police treat blacks and minorities, said Tuesday that Sessions' memo "is no more than politics being played out on the backs of victims of police brutality". "The decision to target police reforms that have been negotiated with police departments with a documented history of civil rights violations is reprehensible". Consent decrees are aimed at "patterns and practices" within troubled police departments.

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Northwestern University law professor Sheila Bedi says problems with Chicago police "are so deeply ingrained" that she can't imagine reforms will get done without court oversight.

NAACP President Cornell Brooks called the move by the Trump Justice Department "somewhere between chilling and alarming". That would require approval from federal judges, some of whom have made clear they will not accept changes without good cause.

"We will continue to pursue outcomes that both protect the civil rights of all community members and preserve the safety of law enforcement officers", said Kevin Sonoff, public affairs officer for the OR office. Baltimore has already amassed more than $12 million to fulfill the consent decree in the next fiscal year.

Pruitt also said that any review could further delay full implementation of Ferguson's consent decree. "We are pleased to see we are doing what we should do to make our police department better and to serve the people better". He says a consent decree makes sure change happens no matter who is running the city or department.

Despite the Trump administration's belittling of the agreements, officials in both Baltimore and Chicago are eager to push ahead with police reforms, although the lack of a court approval very well might make it hard to receive the funding needed to carry out the plans.

"Consent decrees take a major toll on local elected officials, police departments and stakeholders", said John Gaskin III of the NAACP in Ferguson, Missouri, whose leaders entered into an such an agreement after Michael Brown's shooting death at the hands of police in 2014 roiled the St. Louis suburb.

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