Sessions Orders DOJ to Review Obama-era Police Reform Agreements

Janie Parker
April 6, 2017

The DOJ's filing in Baltimore was disclosed on the same day the public learned of an order, by new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that all of the Department's activities are coming under a sweeping review.

The Justice Department on Monday asked the judge overseeing the plan, called a consent decree, to postpone for 90 days a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Ferguson, Missouri, Mayor James Knowles III says officials in the city where 18-year-old Michael Brown died in a fatal police shooting in 2014 will continue to move ahead with reforms, regardless of any Justice Department review.

While the Post acknowledged that the Justice Department might find it hard to undo agreements that have already been authorized by courts and that have independent monitors in place, the real danger is derailing reforms still in negotiations in cities where a judge has not yet approved a deal, such as in Baltimore and Chicago. Though there is a mechanism that permits the Justice Department to try to modify existing agreements, experts say most judges would not be sympathetic to amending a consent decree for purely political reasons, such as a change in administration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of agreements that seek to overhaul troubled police departments.

Civil rights attorney Mary Howell said the court-mandated reforms have had an "enormous impact" on a police department plagued by decades of corruption and abuses.

That doesn't mean those opposed to the government-mandated reforms, like Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Steve Loomis, won't try to change it.

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But after the Justice Department signaled it may abandon its efforts to help that reform, city officials fear they will be left with little money or political backing to fix the fractured relationship between police and citizens. "The reforms we have made over the past year are built on the principles of partnership and trust between our residents and our officers, and they laid the foundation for the 2017 reform plan we outlined just a few weeks ago". The Justice Department found instances when officers fired their weapons when the use of deadly force wasn't justified, struck people in the head with guns, and used stun guns and pepper spray on people who posed little, if any, threat.

On Monday, as reported by The Washington Post, the attorney general doubled-down, requesting a review of consent decrees made by the Obama administration. The cooperation of local police departments was key in reaching these agreements, which makes them partners in fixing what's wrong.

"What is inside of that consent decree is absolutely what we need to not only reform the police department, but gain that trust that we need in our communities", Pugh said.

Jackson said that for all of Loomis' ballyhoo, the union has not come to the city to say it wants to dismantle large parts of the reform effort. Actively participating in a consent decree, he said, will help bolster faith in that process.

Some reform advocates say Chicago won't be able to overhaul its 12,000-officer police force without court oversight.

Davis said the consent decree can ensure that future fiscal decisions don't undermine the process: "There are reforms that cost money and require budgetary commitment".

The city "has made progress toward reform on its own and, as a outcome, it may be possible to take these changes into account where appropriate to ensure future compliance while protecting public safety", the department said, noting that there is a need for police reform in Baltimore.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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