Published: Wed, April 05, 2017
USA | By Yvette Dunn

AG Sessions orders review of consent decrees and other police reforms

AG Sessions orders review of consent decrees and other police reforms

Sessions' call for a review of police consent decrees comes as no surprise.

The Washington Post broke the story that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide.

Baltimore is one of almost two dozen cities - including Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; and Seattle - that were the subject of aggressive efforts by the Obama administration to improve relations between the police and the communities they serve.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III is right to vow that, regardless of what the Justice Department review finds, his community remains committed to the consent decree's reforms.

"We have to continue to stress the necessity of constitutional policing in Baltimore and break the culture of zero-tolerance policing brought to the city many years ago", Davis said.

In Baltimore, a majority-black city with a history of tensions between African-Americans and the police, the consent decree grew out of a federal review that followed the unrest in 2015 over the death of a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody.

"Much has been done to begin the process of building faith between the police department and the community it seeks to serve", Pugh and Davis said in a joint statement.

The Justice Department's report looked at 600 use-of-force incidents between 2010 and 2013 and found that Cleveland Police had a "pattern or practice" of using excessive force.

"I want to be clear: the Chicago Police Department, the city of Chicago is already on the road to reform, and there are no U-turns on that road", Emanuel said then.

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Lynch personally came to Chicago on January 13 to deliver the findings of the Justice Department investigation: Chicago police have shot at fleeing suspects who weren't an immediate threat; failed to address racially discriminatory behavior within the department and put their own officers at risk.

Nevertheless, the motion said federal officials are "aware of the need for police reform in Baltimore and of the need to rebuild public confidence in law enforcement in Baltimore".

Ray Kelly, a community activist with the No Boundaries Coalition, says, "for an outsider to come in and undermine what the community and the police department and the city, as well as the department of justice, said needed to be done is just another form of oppression".

The Sessions memo reflects a dramatic break from the Obama administration, which saw the federal government as essential in holding local police departments accountable for unconstitutional practices. During the final days of the Obama administration, the Justice Department released a scathing report on Chicago police, saying it found evidence of inadequate training, widespread use of excessive force, and bias against blacks and Latinos. So the memo could mean a consent decree may potentially never happen.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund called the request for a continuance "nothing more than a blatant attempt by the Justice Department to abandon its obligations under federal civil rights law and the U.S. Constitution to ensure that police departments are serving residents in a nondiscriminatory and constitutional manner", President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill said in a statement released late Monday night.

The investigation into Cleveland police initially began after several use-of-force incidents, including one in which police officers fired 137 rounds at two people in a auto after a high-speed chase in 2012.

It's probably time we start believing them.

On Friday, Sessions issued a memo to top Justice Department officials, directing them "to immediately review all Department activities - including ... existing or contemplated consent decrees".

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