Before leaving office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations.
Before leaving office on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced consent decrees to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations, the New York Times reports. The move means that the decrees, used aggressively by Obama-era Justice Department officials to fight police abuses, will be more difficult to enact. After he took office, Sessions ordered a review of existing agreements, including with police departments in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson, Mo., enacted amid an outcry over the deaths of black men at the hands of officers.
Sessions imposed three stringent requirements for the agreements. Top political appointees must sign off on the deals, rather than career lawyers; DOJ must lay out evidence of additional violations beyond unconstitutional behavior; and the deals must have a sunset date, rather than being in place until police or other law enforcement agencies have shown improvement. The document reflected Sessions’s staunch support for law enforcement and his belief that overzealous civil rights lawyers under the Obama administration vilified local police. The federal government has long conducted oversight of local law enforcement agencies, and consent decrees have fallen in and out of favor since the first one was adopted in Pittsburgh more than two decades ago. The new guidelines push more of that responsibility onto state attorneys general and other local agencies. By setting a higher bar for the deals, Sessions limited a tool that the Justice Department has used to help change policing practices nationwide.