Sessions Warns Against ‘Handcuffing The Police’ With Consent Decrees In Op-Ed

Alex Brandon/AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions yet again decried the consent decrees favored by the Obama-era Justice Department on Monday, vowing to free local police forces from what he characterized as federal handcuffs.

“We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals,” Sessions wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.

Sessions ordered a review of all such decrees between the Justice Department and local law enforcement earlier this month. By the end of Obama’s second term, the Justice Department was enforcing agreements reached with more than a dozen police departments nationwide and had investigated the practices of many more.

Consent decrees seek to prioritize police-community relations and de-escalation tactics rather than excessive use of force, and are court-enforceable.

Sessions has depicted the agreements, which often came in the wake of high-profile cases of people being killed by police, as part of a larger wave of unjustified scrutiny of law enforcement.

In prepared remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General during his first month on the job, Sessions described an “age of viral videos and targeted killings of police.”

“[M]any of our men and women in law enforcement are becoming more cautious” as a result, he said. “They’re more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing that builds trust and prevents violent crime.”

In his op-ed Monday, Sessions hammered home the same themes.

“[T]oo much focus has been placed on a small number of police who are bad actors rather than on criminals,” he wrote. “And too many people believe the solution is to impose consent decrees that discourage the proactive policing that keeps our cities safe.”

Though he acknowledged the need for “common-sense reforms” like de-escalation training and “punish[ing] police conduct that violates civil rights,” Sessions suggested that the federal government wouldn’t play a prominent role in implementing those reforms.

“[S]uch reforms must promote public safety and avoid harmful federal intrusion in the daily work of local police,” he wrote.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

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