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Published: Thu, April 13, 2017
U.S. | By Rene Hicks

Civil rights groups alarmed over retreat on police reforms

Civil rights groups alarmed over retreat on police reforms

The motion had cited Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recent directive to top deputies within the department to review a range of law enforcement efforts in the country - including consent decrees - to see whether they are in line with President Donald Trump's renewed focus on crime reduction.

In a memo sent March 31 Sessions noted "local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing" aligning with the less federal influence beliefs of the Republican party. The reforms to address long-standing civil rights violations under covered after the death of Freddie Gray.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' department requested a postponement on a hearing regarding police reforms in Baltimore earlier this week.

Three months later, the Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division began an investigation into the Police Department's use of force.

Prior, the DOJ spokesman, declined to comment on whether Sessions had read the Justice Department's investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, which was released in August 2016.

One of these agreements was reached in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray case that left a man dead after a fatal vehicle ride in a police cruiser. But, he said, the consent decree is a help because it "binds" the commissioner and the mayor to "get reforms enacted" on a "timeline that is not necessarily [their] own", as overseen by a federal judge.

On Monday, Sessions called for a review for all investigations and consent decrees with troubled police departments initiated under Obama administration. The consent decree called for a Civilian Review Board to examine allegations of police misconduct. In 1994, Congress gave the Justice Department the power to investigate and sue local police departments that engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives individuals of their constitutional rights. The agreement cost Detroit more than $50 million, including $15 million for court-appointed monitoring teams. They swiftly voiced their opposition to the requested delay, and pledged to press ahead with the business of transforming the police department, with or without a court-enforceable consent decree.

The consent decree was signed under an Obama administration that made reforming police a priority and used consent decrees as tool in that effort.

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Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (c.) and Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis (r.) applauded the judge's decision Wednesday. "We need reform in this city, especially in the use of force, to [encourage] de-escalation".

Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said his office will continue to partner with the city, city attorneys, Portland's mayor, the Police Bureau, the police union, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform and other community stakeholders to track the reforms. The reality, however, is significantly less bad, because of the way consent decrees are structured.

Newark Fraternal Order of Police President James Stewart Jr. said he welcomed the Justice Department's review but believed the consent decree would remain in place.

Craig, who came up through the Los Angeles Police Department during a time of implementation of obligations made in a consent agreement, said it would be less expensive to hire a police chief who would follow through on requirements for change rather than paying a monitor, a course of action that often doesn't sit well with police officers.

"Non-white residents feel distrustful, attacked, bullied, defensive, scared, scarred and singled out", said Shantay Guy, a community mediator.

"After a consent decree experience, when a consent decree experience is done right, that police department is forever changed for the better", Davis said. The announcement was widely rebuked by police reform advocates.

He noted that the consent decree has always been a court order and the court is already deeply involved in monitoring the department's progress toward meeting its mandates.

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