Sessions Skeptical of Consent Decrees in Police Cases

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice, expressed skepticism yesterday over the use of consent decrees to address civil rights abuses in policing, reports the Baltimore Sun.  Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee his Justice Department would approach such agreements with caution. “I think there is concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department that have done wrong,” Sessions said. “These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness, and we need to be careful before we do that.”

“Pattern or practice” investigations by the Justice Department exist to determine whether problems at a police department are isolated to a few individuals or whether civil rights abuses are more systemic. The Justice Department released a scathing report on Baltimore’s Police Department in August alleging a history of unconstitutional and discriminatory practices by city police. Sessions, who has previously criticized the use of consent decrees, said Tuesday that the court-ordered agreements are “not necessarily a bad thing” and “could be a legitimate decision” The thrust of his comments appeared to oppose them, arguing they apply a stigma to police that makes it harder for law enforcement to do its job. “It’s a difficult thing for a city to be sued by the Department of Justice and to be told that your police department is systemically failing to serve the people of the state or the city,” he said. “So that’s an august responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice and so [cities] often feel forced to agree to a consent decree just to remove that stigma, and sometimes there are difficulties there, so I just think we need to be careful and respectful of departments.”



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