Friday, 18 Jan 2019

In one of his final actions as attorney general, Sessions moves to restrict police reform agreements

Jeff Sessions resigned from the post of attorney general on Nov. 7, 2018, at President Trump's request. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP)

Civil rights leaders lashed out Friday at Jeff Sessions, who is in the middle of the law.

Sessions expanded the requirements for court-enforced "consents decrees" with state and local government entities. Sessions signed the memo Wednesday, the day he resigned.

It says that two senior political appointees at the Justice Department must approve nearly all future agreements. The decrees also have a "sunset" provision, limiting them to no longer than three years. And Justice attorneys now must meet additional requirements to establish a police department repeatedly violated the Constitution.

Civil rights advocates say Sessions' move rolls back progress made under the Obama administration. During those years, the United States Department of Justice, Chicago, New Orleans, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo., and was enforcing 14 consents and other agreements. After the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury while in the custody of Baltimore Police, the Justice Department reached an agreement that called for officers to be trained in resolving conflicts without force.

"This memo seals is an obstructionist when it comes to promoting justice, promoting reform and protecting the rights of victims of discrimination," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Vanita Gupta, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the action "a slap in the face of the dedicated staff of the department who work tirelessly to enforce our nation's civil rights laws and to the communities that depend on that enforcement. "

"Jeff Sessions's parting act was another attack on the core mission of the Department of Justice," said Gupta, who was head of the department's Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration. "The memo is designed to restrict consent and creates a series of higher roadblocks to render them rare and ineffective."

One of Sessions' first actions, taken in March 2017, shortly after he took office, was made to order by the Department of Justice. He said it was necessary to ensure that the decrees did not work against the Trump administration's goal of promoting officer safety and morality while fighting violent crime.

That move and others were hailed by police departments and state and local officers across the country. Chuck Canterbury, the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police, also applauded the Sessions memo, saying that they agree to provide more responsibility to local departments, include the views of rank-and-file officers and be "more collaborative."

Steven H. Cook, a Justice Department official at the Office of Law Enforcement Affairs, said that

"He said we're going to police the police," Cook said. "But we're not going to condemn the entire department when there's a single or couple of wrongdoers. They were huge to police departments that were under the influence of the police and they were not alive. "

The new consent decree requirements pertain to all civil litigation against state or local government entities, not just police agreements.

Trump asked Sessions to resign, Sessions again signaled his strong support of state and local police.

"You can be certain about this: We have your backs – and you have our thanks."