In report after report during the Obama years, Justice Department lawyers found patterns of rights violations by local police departments and used them as leverage to obtain major policing overhauls. The Trump administration is backing away from that tough-minded approach, prompting fierce debate, reports the New York Times. Many police unions welcome the news, saying the Obama administration impeded law enforcement and unfairly painted good officers as wrongdoers. The unions, a source of support for President Trump during the campaign, back his “law and order” message. Many police chiefs and politicians who have been living under agreements struck with the Justice Department vowed to continue making changes to their police departments with or without the department’s imprimatur. They say the results of consent decrees, which are backed by a court order, and memorandums of agreement reached out of court have been mostly positive.
It is not clear whether Sessions will seek early termination of agreements in effect in places like Cleveland; New Orleans; Ferguson, Mo.; Albuquerque; and Maricopa County, Az. The agreements, which usually expire after five years, mandate changes in training and policies like supervision, reporting contacts with the public, conducting searches, using force, de-escalating conflict, handling people with mental illnesses, and race relations. Police unions, individual officers and conservatives often interpret criticism of police practices — whether from Black Lives Matter protesters, Justice Department lawyers or former President Obama — as hostility to the police. They argue that the kinds of changes demanded by the department hinder policing by hurting morale and making officers less aggressive, a claim many criminologists dispute.