A sweeping new Department of Justice directive calling for the review of dozens of agreements between police departments and the federal government is raising alarms among police reform advocates around the country, with critics arguing that the Trump White House is dead-set on undoing hard-won criminal justice achievements.
Late Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo calling on his two top deputies to “immediately review all Department activities” for adherence to the Trump administration’s law enforcement agenda. The areas Sessions highlighted for review included collaborative investigations and prosecutions, law enforcement grants, training, compliance reviews, and more.
The attorney general’s two-page memo also took aim at “existing or contemplated consent decrees” between the federal government and local law enforcement agencies, setting the stage for an examination of numerous agreements and ongoing deliberations set in place by the Trump administration’s predecessors.
Though it had been anticipated for months, Sessions’s call for a review of the Justice Department’s consent decrees was met with immediate criticism from civil liberties advocates, who view the binding legal agreements, overseen by independent monitors, as a vital tool for reforming abusive police practices and departments.
“The memo is disappointing to say the least,” Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director of the ACLU, told The Intercept.
Dated March 31, Sessions’s memo was made public just hours before the DOJ asked a federal judge for a 90-day delay in consent decree proceedings focused on the Baltimore Police Department — a process that began following protests surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man who died in police custody. Baltimore’s police chief and mayor both pushed back on the DOJ request Monday, the Associated Press reported, arguing that a delay in the process would damage public trust.
“We want to move forward,” Mayor Catherine Pugh told the AP. “We want to work with our police department. We believe there are reforms needed.”