U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned a plan to reform and monitor the Baltimore Police Department may lead to rising crime in the city after a federal judge approved the agreement Friday over the objections of the Justice Department.
A U.S. district court judge finalized a proposed consent decree between the U.S. government and the city of Baltimore Friday morning and rejected the Justice Department's requests to delay the order so it could further review the agreement.
The consent decree was negotiated in the waning days of the Obama administration after the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division released a scathing report last year finding that the Baltimore Police Department had engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing. The Civil Rights Division launched the investigation after the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray while in police custody in 2015.
Sessions said in a statement Friday that while he supports efforts to reform policing, "there are clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime."
"This decree was negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration and signed only days before they left office," Sessions continued. "While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city."
Sessions' statements are yet another signal of the Trump administration's desire to roll back the Obama administration's more aggressive federal oversight of police departments. The Obama administration launched dozens of civil rights investigations into local police departments across the U.S., finding systemic constitutional violations in cities including Chicago, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri.
Those days are over.
This week, Sessions ordered a review of the 14 current consent decrees between U.S. government and cities. He's previously expressed skepticism of the Obama administration's police investigations, saying in January that they "undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness."
Justice Department officials also tried to delay the Baltimore consent decree from going into effect. Baltimore city officials, however, wanted to move forward with the consent decree, and U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar refused to allow the U.S. government time to back out, writing that "the problems that necessitate this consent decree are urgent."
"The time for negotiating the agreement is over," Bredar wrote. "The only question now is whether the Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not."
The order will put limits on how Baltimore police can engage with criminal suspects and requires more training on de-escalation tactics, according to The Baltimore Sun. A court-appointed monitor will ensure compliance with the decree.
Sessions has made it clear he puts the feelings of police officers over the civil liberties of those being policed. The Justice Department will likely have a difficult time rolling back the consent decrees that are already in place, but those in cities with widespread discriminatory and unconstitutional policing will just have to look somewhere other than the Justice Department for relief.
Here is Sessions' full statement:
Today, a federal court entered a consent decree that will require the court and a highly-paid monitor to govern every detail of how the Baltimore Police Department functions for the foreseeable future. This decree was negotiated during a rushed process by the previous administration and signed only days before they left office. While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city.
Make no mistake, Baltimore is facing a violent crime crisis.
Baltimore has seen a 22 percent increase in violent crime in just the last year. While arrests in the city fell 45 percent based on some of these ill-advised reforms, homicides rose 78 percent and shootings more than doubled. Just in 2017, we've seen homicides are up another 42 percent compared to this time last year. In short, the citizens of Baltimore are plagued by a rash of violent crime that shows no signs of letting up.
The mayor and police chief in Baltimore say they are committed to better policing and that there should be no delay to review this decree, but there are clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime. The citizens of Baltimore deserve to see a real and lasting reduction in the fast-rising violent crime threatening their city.
The Department of Justice stands ready to work with Baltimore to fight violent crime and improve policing in the city.