Civil Rights Commission: Revive DOJ Scrutiny of Local Police

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The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights urged the Trump administration Thursday to resume federal oversight of troubled police departments and reinstate the Justice Department’s community policing office — steps that would reverse an effort by Jeff Sessions, the recently departed attorney general, to limit federal oversight of local police departments, the Washington Post reports. The commission’s 200-page report, endorsed by a majority of the eight members, concludes that black Americans, among others, have valid concerns about police violence and lack of officer accountability. In response, the report concludes, federal officials should resume the practice — abandoned since Donald Trump became president — of investigating local police departments accused of systemic civil rights violations and resurrect the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department opened more than two dozen inquiries into civil rights violations by local police departments and entered at least 14 “consent decrees” in which local officials agreed to enact reforms and submit to a federal monitor. During the Trump administration, the federal government has walked away from efforts to oversee local departments. During his nearly two years leading the Justice Department, Sessions did not open any investigations of local police departments, and he publicly disparaged the rigor and accuracy of previous federal inquiries that had documented civil rights violations by police. The report recommends that Congress pass legislation requiring local police departments to provide reliable data about police use of force and that federal funding be denied to those that refuse. The commission notes that the most comprehensive data about how often police officers use fatal force is in databases maintained by The Post and other media outlets.

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