Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday said he plans to ‘pull back’ on civil rights lawsuits, a strategy often used under the previous administration to address Constitutional abuses on the part of police.
Sessions, who has been critical of the consent decree process, told a meeting of the state attorneys general the Department of Justice needs to help police departments fight crime.
“We need, so far as we can, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. And I’m afraid we’ve done some of that,” said Sessions, according to NBC News. “So we’re going to try to pull back on this.”
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division investigated 25 law enforcement agencies, and several were found to consistently violate the Constitution. At least 15 of the agencies are now subject to so-called consent decrees, court-enforceable agreements for department reforms. Fearing a reversal of course from the Trump administration, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a decree in Baltimore, and wrapped up an investigation in Chicago in the waning days of the Obama White House.
Sessions has said that the Civil Rights Division under Obama had “an agenda that’s been a troubling issue for a number of years.”
“One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees,” Sessions wrote in a 2008 report. “Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
On Monday, Sessions told reporters he had not read the previous administration’s reports on police department practices in Chicago or Ferguson, Missouri, calling them “pretty anecdotal, and so not so scientifically based.”
“To confront the challenge of rising crime, we must rely heavily on local law enforcement to lead the way – and they must know they have our steadfast support,” read Sessions’ prepared remarks for the state attorneys general Tuesday.
“For the federal government, that means this: rather than dictating to local police how to do their jobs – or spending scarce federal resources to sue them in court – we should use our money, research and expertise to help them figure out what is happening and determine the best ways to fight crime.”