Police Abuse

Jeff Sessions Orders Review of All Consent Decrees, Plus a Host of Other DOJ Activities

DOJ also asked for postponement of Baltimore consent decree hearing.

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DOJ

In a memo issued Friday and released yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an immediate review of a wide range of Department of Justice (DOJ) activities that involve the department cooperating or otherwise partnering with local law enforcement, including "collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation."

Sessions writes that the purpose of the review is to "ensure that they fully and effectively promote the principles" Sessions says should be at the core of the Department of Justice. He lists eight principles in the memo—just one of them, the third, is relevant to constitutional concerns. "Local law enforcement must protect and repsect the civil rights of all members of the public," Sessions writes. The two principles preceding that point were that public safety was the "paramount concern and duty of law enforcement officials" and that the DOJ should "help promote officer safety, officer morale, and public respect for their work."

Other principles Sessions mentions, and which he expects the Department-wide review to check for, are "local control and local accountability," that the "misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform," that crime data collection and analysis were "essential for effective law enforcement strategies," that recruitment and training should "focus on making law enforcement a rewarding career," and that local-federal collaboration was "important" and that jurisdictions that accepted DOJ money were "expected to adhere to the department's grant conditions as well as to all federal laws."

Very little in these principles, which Sessions said in his memo advanced the goals he says they're supposed to, which are "to effectively promote a peaceful and lawful society, where the civil rights of all persons are valued and protected." Only one of the principles has anything to do with civil rights, suggesting Sessions is taking the approach common on the right, and left, that protecting civil rights actually means fighting crimes (or seizing guns) because civil rights actually mean public safety. It's a silly argument that nevertheless is attractive to the wide swath of the American population that does not have a clear understanding of constitutional rights or what it means to live in a free society. It's a condition that leads to arguments like "my right not to be shot trumps the right to bear arms" or "criminals don't have rights."

While Sessions insists his memo shouldn't be "be construed to delay or impede any pending criminal or national security investigation or program," the department has already asked for a 90-day postponement of a hearing on a proposed consent decree between the DOJ and the Baltimore police department so that it could "review and assess" the proposal. Baltimore's mayor says the city will officially oppose the DOJ's request for a postponement. Chicago leaders say, somewhat incredulously, that they'll continue to work on police reform no matter what the DOJ says. "Chicago has been, is, and always will be committed to reform," Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police chief, Eddie Johnson, wrote in a statement released yesterday—the lofty rhetoric is not matched by actual actions. There's no evidence Chicago has been or is continued to reform, only that it's political leaders understand how to use reform rhetoric for their own interests. Sessions has also previously criticized the DOJ reports on Ferguson and Baltimore as being "anecdotal" despite admitting he hadn't actually read the reports (which should not take more than a couple of hours to get through).

Sessions' memo and its focus on officer safety fits in with the campaign promises Donald Trump made while running for president. At his inauguration, Trump vowed to end the "dangerous anti-police atmosphere" in the country. The idea that increased and sustained interest in police reform and reducing police violence creates an "anti-police" atmosphere is deeply misleading. In 2016, 64 police officers were shot and killed around the country, an increase over the 51 killed in 2015, but less than the 68 killed in 2011 and the 67 killed in 2007, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. The deaths in 2007 and 2011 were not similarly politicized because the cause of police reform was not particularly a national issue, so there was no incentive to do so. Now there is, but the numbers are miniscule given the more than 750,000 law enforcement officers working around the country, and the year-to-year differences are mostly statistical noise. 2013 saw just 31 law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty, the fewest killed by gunfire since 1880, and half the number of those killed in 2011 despite no discernable policy changes in those two years that the drop could've been attributed to.

While the DOJ under the Obama administration had a somewhat faster pace of opening investigations into police departments, such investigations have taken place since the 1990s, when they became the law. The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has 14 consent decrees it is currently enforcing, and 5 other agreements with local law enforcement. Between 1994, the year such investigations started, and 2008, the DOJ concluded 20 reform agreements—the Clinton DOJ had previously opened 5 investigations that led to such agreements and the Bush DOJ 10. The Trump administration inherited 19 agreements, and 3 open investigations—Baltimore, Chicago, and the Orange County, California, Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's office.

Between 1994 and 2008 the DOJ entered into 20 reform agreements as a result of a pattern-or-practice investigation. The Clinton administration DOJ opened 5 investigations that resulted in reform agreements, and the Bush administration 10. The Obama DOJ is handing over at least three open investigations (including that of the Orange County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office) to the incoming Trump administration, plus the 19 agreements currently in enforcement. Sessions' hesitance to commit to continuing a 20-year-long federal practice that has helped induce reforms at local police departments highlights the importance of police reform as an issue in local politics, where in recent years it has been used to some effect by politicians as a rhetorical tool but has not been a sustained policy concern.

NEXT: North Dakota Senate Says It's Fine for Police to Seize Property Without a Conviction

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  1. Remember, good people don’t smoke marijuana. But at least we were spared the email pantsuit cankles presidency. She might have wanted to raise taxes on billionaires by a trivial amount!

    1. Yeah, Hillary totally came out for legalization. Oh wait, she didn’t, because her pollsters told her not to do it.

      1. Each party has policy goals and on many issues, such as these, they are on opposite trajectories. She probably would have been more of a drug hawk than a lot of other Democrats. But not a hundredth as bad as the fuckfaces we got!

    2. And suppress freedom of the press. She was very keen on that, especially press critical of her.

  2. “Sessions is taking the approach common on the right, and left, that protecting civil rights actually means fighting crimes (or seizing guns) because civil rights actually mean public safety. It’s a silly argument that nevertheless is attractive to the wide swath of the American population that does not have a clear understanding of constitutional rights or what it means to live in a free society.”

    The legitimate purpose of a libertarian (small) government is to protect our rights.

    Yes, we have a criminal justice system to protect our rights from the police, but we also have police to protect our rights from criminals.

    I wish a wide swath of the American population understood that there is no substantive difference between the government violating our rights and criminals violating our rights.

    Furthermore, the Constitution doesn’t give us any rights we wouldn’t already have without it. The Constitution simply protects our rights from abuse by government. In a fantasy world, our rights only exist if the government says so. In the real world, the Soviet Union collapses and so does Jim Crow–no matter what the law says.

    1. Rights are a pleasant fiction without an effective set of institutions to protect them.

      1. Yes, and that’s why the Soviet Union collapsed.

        Because there was an effective set of institutions to protect people’s right to participate in markets.

        You’re a buffoon, Hugh.

        That’s why the Chinese embraced perestroika. It wasn’t because violating people’s rights has negative consequences in the real world–regardless of what the law says. It was because the Chinese had an effective set of institutions to protect them?

        You’re no smarter than Tony, Hugh.

        1. I must be just as stupid as you say, because you’re obviously making some brilliant counterargument, but all I can see is some muddled counterfactuals and childish namecalling.

          1. Were you even disagreeing with Ken?

          2. The world is full of simple arguments you can’t understand, Hugh.

            Zeb can’t understand simple things unless he already agrees with them.

            Maybe the two of you should go bowling, miniature golf, or dinner and a movie. Have a few drinks. See what happens. You could bring Tony along–since he agrees with you on pretty much everything.

            1. Maybe the two of you should go bowling, miniature golf, or dinner and a movie. Have a few drinks. See what happens. You could bring Tony along–since he agrees with you on pretty much everything.

              It’s really unfortunate that the people who had interesting things to say don’t visit anymore but the dumb assholes can’t stay away.

              1. It’s like the people who consistently lose over and over all let the resentment of being wrong fester for years–and now they’ve got the place to themselves.

                Now you make a basic librertarian statement around here about the existence of our rights and the legitimate role of libertarian government, and it’s like they’ve never heard it before.

                1. Libertarians largely agree on what rights are legitimate. But there is not so much agreement on the nature of the rights or where they originate. Some people think they come from God. Some think that self-ownership is self-evident and that the rest follows from there. And some think that they are utilitarian and are good because they yield the best results.

                  Sorry, it’s not such a simple thing as you make it out to be. Stop being such a dick and engage the actual arguments.

            2. Have you always been such a dick? What’s with the descent to just insulting anyone who questions anything you say?

              Your response to Hugh above makes no sense at all. I don’t think the misunderstandings are the fault of your audience. Seriously, you should get checked to see if you’ve suffered some kind of brain injury recently.

              1. “Your response to Hugh above makes no sense at all.”

                Simple statements never seem to make any sense to you!

                “In a fantasy world, our rights only exist if the government says so. In the real world, the Soviet Union collapses and so does Jim Crow–no matter what the law says.”

                Either you’re an imbecile, or you write stupid shit just to get the attention.

        2. Ken, if there was a point in that word salad, I am afraid I missed it.

          1. “Rights are a pleasant fiction without an effective set of institutions to protect them.

            The Soviet Union collapsed because it failed to respect people’s property rights adequately, among other things.

            Rights are not a pleasant fiction. Institutions built on ignoring rights are built upon a fantasy, and they’re repeatedly destroyed for being in conflict with the reality of our rights.

            This really isn’t hard to follow. Is this even a libertarian website anymore?

            1. I don’t see how “rights are a pleasant fiction” is obviously wrong, Ken. You are acting like it’s all self evident, which it just isn’t. If you believe that our rights are a gift from God, that’s great. You’ve got it all sorted. For those of us who don’t believe that, there is really no alternative but to say that rights are something invented by people and which only exist in the context of people interacting with each other.

              I like to think that the rights of the sort that libertarians respect are fundamental to how humans operate in some way. But that can only really be an empirical judgement. As you correctly note, societies that respect people’s basic rights to property, economic activity and speech do better, and those that do not tend to collapse in time. But we only know that because it’s been tried (more or less) and demonstrated to work.

              It seems to me that Hugh’s response actually supported what you were trying to say initially. The Soviet Union fell apart because it didn’t have effective institutions to protect people’s rights. Maybe “fiction” isn’t a good way to describe it. Perhaps “invention” is better.

    2. What’s the point in struggling so hard to believe something that is just obvious magical nonsense? Are you trying to convince yourself or what? How does one have a right to anything in the absence of law (like the constitution)? You have the right to free speech… until someone comes along and asserts a right to suppress your speech. It’s happened on this planet more often than not.

      We’re really supposed to believe that there’s a set of theoretical rights floating in the cosmos somewhere (defined by you of course), and whether anyone gets to actually enjoy any of them is practically an afterthought? It’s not even useful mumbo-jumbo!

      1. “What’s the point in struggling so hard to believe something that is just obvious magical nonsense?”

        Violating people’s rights has consistent and predictable results in the real world–regardless of whether the governments believe in them.

        Have you seen what’s going on in Venezuela?

        There’s nothing magical about believing that people’s rights exist regardless of whether the government believes in theme.

        But believing that our rights only exist if the government believes in them requires you to close your eyes to pretty much all of history.

        1. Brutal regimes have been around a shit ton longer than rights-respecting capitalist democracies. There’s nothing inevitable about them, and there’s no guarantee they are even sustainable. Standing on the corner talking about magic is certainly not contributing to that cause.

          1. Evolution can take a long time, but the fact is that societies that put a higher emphasis on protecting people’s rights tend to flourish while those that don’t tend to end up on the ash heap of history. Sure, there are artifacts of earlier ages that manage to survive in the swamps, like alligators, but they survive in spite of progress–not because of it.

            I don’t know when or if the North Korean regime will collapse. I suppose they could go on starving their own people off periodically forever. But they’re not likely to flourish and predominate that way, and even if they somehow did? It won’t be because they put such a low emphasis on respecting individual rights. It’ll be in spite of the fact that ignoring people’s rights hurts them every step of the way.

            And that pain they inflict on themselves as a result of ignoring people’s rights happens regardless of whether their government or you believe in individual rights.

            1. Rhetorically this all hinges on a kind of stupid is-ought distinction that shouldn’t be there. I agree that rights-respecting liberal democracies are the best mode of living we’ve come up with compared to all the others, but given that they’ve been around a couple hundred years, and only a few decades in any form we would tolerate, while autocracies in various designs have lasted thousands of years, we can’t simply state as fact that they are inevitable. Historical determinism is silly enough when we look at actual history.

              Rather modern liberal democracy seems terribly unstable, dependent on carefully constructed systems of checks and balances and institutions that promote the education and well-being of the masses, all watched with constant vigilance.

              1. The only reason democracies stop existing is because autocrats take control and restrict rights that prevent tyranny and people are too complacent to stop it from happening until it hits a critical mass and requires revolution.

                1. The point is that things get better or worse relative to whether people’s rights are being violated–regardless of whether those rights are enshrined in the Constitution or the law.

                  There was no revolution in China. The Chinese government responded to the negative consequences of ignoring people’s property rights by starting to respect them–making things better. Before that change, they arbitrarily made laws that said people’s rights didn’t exist, but violating those rights made things worse regardless.

                  Same thing with the drug war. The idea that people don’t have a right to consume marijuana is a fantasy. The law can say people don’t have that right, but that’s beside the point. It doesn’t matter if the government spends trillions of dollars violating that right or throws millions of people in prison for decades–the negative consequences of violating that right are what they are anyway.

                  The idea the government can decide whether people’s rights exist and what they are is a fantasy.

                  The fact that violating people’s rights has negative consequences in the real world–regardless of whether the government recognizes those rights in law–is reality.

  3. Is it cute that he thinks local law enforcement does ‘legitimate and honorable work’ or horrifying?

    Some questions just answer themselves, don’t they?

    1. People who want to become cops should be forever barred from doing so.

      1. I generally agree. The people who want to be cops usually have the delusion that they are helping people by hurting them.

        They think i am doing this for their own good protecting them. They also think of themselves as better people.

        1. I think many of them just want to shoot someone and get away with it.

          1. I do know a few of them too!

        2. Even the good ones, and there are many good ones, get on a power trip after a while.

          1. And even the good ones will fuck you over for petty BS like weed possession.

    2. Send memos, not bullets.

  4. …DOJ should “help promote officer safety, officer morale, and public respect for their work.”

    In many a mind, these are mutually exclusive. That’s why the last often requires a baton to the head.

    1. that statement you quoted makes me cringe. It is a truly horrifying statement of propaganda.

      People believe this shit too. People wouldn’t hate police if they did their job..aka respecting and protecting rights above their own rights (as the military does. Military members get their rights violated massively in order to protect the country…though largely in ways that weren’t needed.).

      People don’t hate firemen because firemen don’t actively try to be busy bodies and ruin your life….the admins who make petty rules do and people loathe them.

      1. My work puts me in contact with the fire service for certain purposes, and I will say that although they have their own personality issues (ego mostly), they are on the whole extremely decent, brave, and altruistic human beings, while the cop side of things is full of atrocious psychopaths. I know that some jurisdictions screen for that personality type specifically, and of course bullies gravitate toward the profession.

        Which is one reason why the police should be among the institutions most carefully scrutinized for abuses of power instead of coddled and worshiped.

        1. 100% agree and i have seen this with the Marine Corps and other branches. The police and military attract he same people, which is why i really hate the police because the people suck and there is 0 accountability. Military has no accountability too.

          But military only fucks military over so citizens don’t see it.

        2. thats also why people respect military members…you get seriously jewed going into military to protect the nation.

        3. Well said. The fact that so many people think that the police need more leeway and benefit of the doubt is pretty disturbing.

          Some police, I’m sure deserve some degree of support and respect (though I have a hard time really respecting anyone who is willing to lock someone up for drugs or other consensual “crimes”).

          1. we agreed with tony -_- 😀

          2. we agreed with tony -_- 😀

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