Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the Justice Department to undertake a comprehensive review of all police reform activities, including any existing or contemplated consent decrees, according to a memorandum released Monday.
The directive from the nation’s top law enforcement officer comes at a critical time for several major cities, including Baltimore and Chicago, which revealed unconstitutional patterns of racial discrimination and excessive force in policing in length reports.
In certain cases during the Obama administration, the Justice Department negotiated formal reform agreements with the cities, usually in the form of a “consent decree,” which are then overseen by a federal court.
The two-page memo instructs the department to immediately review all “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 promote the Trump administration’s goals of working with law enforcement “to ensure public safety.”
Sessions’ skepticism about the effectiveness of consent decrees was discussed at length during questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing.
“I think there is concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department that have done wrong,” Sessions said in January.
“These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness, and we need to be careful before we do that.”
The Justice Department reached a 227-page consent decree with Baltimore in January after federal monitoring for more than a year revealed “systemic deficiencies” in training, policies and accountability structures that “fail[ed] to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively.”
But DOJ attorneys asked a federal judge in Maryland on Monday to postpone an upcoming hearing in the case until June.
“The Department must ensure that such contemplated consent decrees advance the safety and protection of the public, promote officer safety and morale, protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public, respect local control of law enforcement, are rooted in timely and reliable statistics on crime and criminals, and do not impede recruitment and training of officers,” attorneys for the department wrote in Monday’s court filing. “There are few better examples of places where such difficult and important work is necessary than Baltimore.”
The Washington Post first reported the memo.