Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum late Monday calling for a review and assessment of the aggressive actions taken by Barack Obama’s Department of Justice on police conduct in state and local jurisdictions.
“Our mission statement directs the Department of Justice ‘to ensure public safety,’ ‘to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime’ and ‘to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans,’” the memo states. “We fully embrace and share these responsibilities with thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country that also seek to prevent crime and protect the public.”
The memo states that the responsibility of upholding the rule of law “first and foremost” belongs to state, local, and tribal law enforcement. The memo states:
The Deputy Attorney General and the Associate Attorney General are hereby directed to immediately review all department activities, including collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation in order to ensure that they fully and effectively promote the principles outlined above.
The media, however, is characterizing the policies outlined in the memo as an “effort to cut back on federal oversight of local law enforcement,” and to end Obama’s efforts to “force local police to reform many policies, from the use of deadly force to how officers deal with minority communities,” USA Today reported on Monday.
The USA Today report praises the accomplishments of the Obama DOJ, including an agreement with Ferguson, Mo. police after the 2014 death of an 18-year-old suspect and a similar agreement with Baltimore police after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.
All six police officers charged in Gray’s death while in police custody were vindicated in the case.
“Under President Obama, the Justice Department opened investigations into more than two dozen police agencies and secured court-enforceable agreements in more than a dozen cases to force changes in local law enforcement policy,” USA Today reported.
USA Today also reports on the results of a “scathing investigation” released in the waning days of the Obama administration in January into police conduct in Chicago that alleged “widespread racial bias, excessive use of force, poor training and feckless oversight of officers accused of misconduct.”
“Sadly, our thorough investigation into the Chicago Police Department found that far too many residents of this proud city have not received that kind of policing,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in announcing the results of the investigation. “The resulting deficit in trust and accountability is not just bad for residents – it’s also bad for dedicated police officers trying to do their jobs safely and effectively.”
In his memo, Sessions said: “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”
Critics of the memo, including the liberal group, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the memo “shocking” and cited the Lynch DOJ report on Baltimore police released in August.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of LCCRUL said:
In a 163 page report, the Justice Department laid out extensive evidence of unconstitutional policing practices including unlawful stops, searches, and arrests; racial disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests; and use of excessive force. The mayor, the community and the police department all support reform, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the obstacle standing in the way.
National Public Radio reported on Tuesday that DOJ has asked a federal judge in Baltimore to delay a hearing this week on the Obama agreement with the police.
NPR commentated in the news report that Sessions is “casting a cloud over a host of other federal consent decrees that target unconstitutional law enforcement practices.”