Sessions reins in U.S. sway over police
Civil rights leaders lashed out Friday at Jeff Sessions, who in one of his last acts as attorney general approved an order restricting the federal government’s ability to enforce changes at state and local law enforcement agencies that are accused of abuse.
In a memo released late Thursday by the Justice Department and praised by police organizations, Sessions added new requirements to court-enforced “consent decrees” reached 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 almost all future agreements. The decrees also are to have a “sunset” provision, limiting them to no more than three years. And Justice attorneys now must show “aggravating factors” beyond demonstrating that police actions were unconstitutional.
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies in cities including Chicago, New Orleans, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo., and was enforcing 14 consent decrees and other agreements.
“This memo seals Sessions’s legacy as an obstructionist when it comes to advancing 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.
But Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that future consent decrees will give more responsibility to local departments, include the views of rank-and-file officers and be “more collaborative.”