House Democrats have issued a sweeping request for documents related to the Justice Department’s oversight of local police departments to assess the extent to which the agency has abandoned efforts to force reforms under the Trump administration, the Washington Post reports. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) requested copies of documents and internal emails related to the department’s handling of consent decrees and “patterns and practices” investigations when federal investigators probe police departments accused of civil rights violations. While the Obama administration, in response to growing concern about police shootings and alleged police misconduct, aggressively pursued such investigations to overhaul troubled departments, the process has been largely abandoned under Trump.
“Despite continuing concerns from civil rights and community-based organizations, the Department has sharply curtailed its statutory role in identifying and eradicating civil rights abuses by law enforcement,” Nadler wrote. “Excessive force in police-civilian encounters presents a crisis of trust throughout our nation. Changes to Department policy and failure to uphold the law run the risk of undermining federal oversight authority in this space.” During the Obama administration, DOJ opened 25 investigations of local law enforcement agencies — including in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, New Orleans and Ferguson, Mo. — and was enforcing 14 consent decrees and other overhaul agreements. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime critic of the consent-decree process, ordered a review of all existing agreements. In response to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Attorney General William Barr promised in his first 90 days in office to provide lawmakers with a list of consent decrees the department had withdrawn from since Sessions imposed the policy. He will meet civil rights leaders June 4 to discuss the issue.