Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of former President Barack Obama’s consent decrees.
The Justice Department released a memo that went public on Monday calling for an immediate “review of all Department activities,” including “existing or contemplated consent decrees.”
“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective policing,” Sessions wrote in the memo. “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
“Although this is seldom admitted out loud, the left-leaning leadership of Obama’s Civil Rights Division viewed cops as problems and criminals as victims.”
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Within hours of the memo’s release, the Justice Department requested a 90-day continuance in order to “review and assess” a proposed consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department. This decree originated with the Obama administration after the well-publicized death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody.
Law enforcement is rejoicing. “Hooray for AG Sessions!” Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said in a statement sent to LifeZette. “Every one of these decrees is baseless and politically motivated by the cop-hating Obama administration and his race hustlers Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch,” said Clarke.
“These decrees tie the hands of law enforcement, thereby increasing crime and cost to taxpayers,” Clarke continued. “The losers in all this are the good, law-abiding black people who disproportionately bear the brunt of crime victimization due to less assertive policing strategies.”
“The review ordered by Sessions is a necessary first step to end Obama’s war on police,” Robert Romano, senior editor at Americans for Limited Government, told LifeZette. “These overreaching consent decrees with liberal city governments are de facto nationalization of police departments with regulations governing searches, stops, and the use of force,” Romano explained.
“The Framers of the Constitution did not think this was a job for federal authority.”
It “has been long accepted in this country — until Obama’s Civil Rights Division thought otherwise — that policing is a state and local responsibility, and not that of the federal government,” echoed Bill Otis, a professor of law at Georgetown University and a former United States attorney.
But consent decrees became a favorite tool of the Obama administration — a way to put pressure on police departments accused of racism, the inevitable results of “pattern and practices” investigations that at times seemed to many to be little more than ideologically motivated show trials.
“If the feds are to become involved,” Otis told LifeZette, “one might think it would be on behalf of public safety rather than opposed to it.” But that’s not how the DOJ operated under Obama, according to Otis. “Although this is seldom admitted out loud, the left-leaning leadership of Obama’s Civil Rights Division viewed cops as problems and criminals as victims,” he said.
“The thinking that produced this result is strongly related to the thinking that conceptualizes incarceration as the problem, rather than as [a partial but important] solution to the problem of crime,” added Otis, who is an expert on criminal-justice reform.
But consent decrees are not only a shining example of ideologically motivated government overreach; they are also flat-out dangerous. “Chicago is the most startling example,” said Otis. “When a consent decree of the kind Obama’s DOJ sought for Baltimore was imposed in Chicago, police stops dropped dramatically. This was not a victory for civil rights, however. It was a victory for murder, which skyrocketed, and has now reached levels that are a national scandal — and that, of course, disproportionately burden the African-American population.”
“It is because of the handicapping of police that Obama’s DOJ brought about that Attorney General Sessions has no choice but to act,” said Otis.
“The Framers thought that local citizens should have the primary say-so, and Attorney General Sessions is already listening to their voices,” Otis said. “The Framers did not think this was a job for federal authority. As usual, they were right — not just for purposes of limited and accountable government, but at least as much to safeguard the lives and property of citizens, now suffering from a two-year crime surge.”
But while Sessions’ review of consent decrees is surely a welcome breath of fresh air for law enforcement, there is still a concern: Even if he were able to stop using them, there’s no guarantee the federal government couldn’t once more try to nationalize local police departments.
“Once the review is complete, the next step will be rescinding the consent decrees, and then to prevent this from ever happening again,” said Romano. “Congress must also act to repeal 42 U.S.C. § 14141, a section of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that made the court actions possible and gives the Attorney General authority to prosecute law enforcement misconduct,” he said.
“Sessions is doing the right thing — but to stop it for good, Congress must act.”