Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the Department of Justice on Tuesday to review Obama-era reform agreements made with police departments. The move is meant to boost morale among law enforcement and increase their independence.
The new directive, as well as a bid to reconsider an agreement in Baltimore that former President Barack Obama's lawyers made, are signs the Trump administration is planning to scale back the number of investigations into law enforcement misconduct -- and revisit deals negotiated by the prior administration’s civil rights unit.
Sessions' memo demands the Justice Department review all its prior police reform agreements “including collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation in order to ensure that they fully and effectively promote the principles” of the new administration.
Some law enforcement groups are praising the memo after hearing complaints that the former administration’s restrictions on them emboldened criminals.
“FOP approves of any review that will benefit the departments and the men and women of law enforcement,” Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told Fox News.
“The attorney general’s approach is to assist, not hinder law enforcement, and we support his directive,” he added.
Sessions said in the memo that it’s not the role of the federal government to oversee accountability of local law enforcement.
While “local control and local accountability are necessary for effective policing, it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” he said.
The move comes as civil rights lawyers at the department asked a judge to delay a hearing on a police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, between the Obama administration and the Baltimore Police Department.
“The Attorney General and the new leadership in the Department are actively developing strategies to support the thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country that seek to prevent crime and protect the public,” Justice officials said in their filing. “The Department is working to ensure that those initiatives effectively dovetail with robust enforcement of federal laws designed to preserve and protect civil rights.”
Since 2009 there have been 25 DOJ investigations of law enforcement agencies, as well as 14 consent decrees and other agreements. Civil rights activists have expressed concern that Sessions’s memo jeopardizes the status of agreements that haven’t been finalized yet.
“This is terrifying,” Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, told The Washington Post. “This raises the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution.”
In Chicago, where former Attorney General Loretta Lynch said police had shown a “pattern or practice of use of excessive force,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Eddie Johnson vowed to continue their work to reform the city’s police department.
“Reform is in our self-interest and that is why Chicago has been, is, and always will be committed to reform,” the joint statement read.