In a memo released on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of the "police reform" agreements the Obama Justice Department imposed on several nonfederal law enforcement agencies nationwide — what the Washington Post describes as "a key legacy of the Obama administration." The purpose of the review, explained Sessions, was to ensure that the agreements do not undermine the Trump administration's priorities, including protecting the safety and civil rights of the public, promoting officer safety and morale, and allowing local departments to do their job without unnecessary federal meddling.
Sessions' call for a department-wide review of all "collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent degrees, and task force participation" has been met with reflexive alarm and outrage from some civil rights advocates, who have made clear they assume it will inevitably result in the undoing of all the "progress" of the Obama DOJ.
One of the major focuses of the Justice Department under the leadership of both Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch was the investigation of "troubled" law enforcement agencies, which resulted in the opening of 25 investigations and over a dozen agreements with local law enforcement to implement various progressive policies imposed by the DOJ. Many involved in law enforcement have decried the federally imposed policies as hampering local departments' ability to protect citizens and damaging morale among officers.
The prospect of undoing the Obama administration's "reforms" has many on the Left very concerned. The Post provides some quotes from "terrif[ied]" critics of Sessions' call for review, including Jonathan Smith, an executive with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, who worked with the Obama DOJ for five years on investigation into 23 police departments.
"This is terrifying," said Smith. "This raises the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution."
St Louis NAACP president Adolphus Pruitt, echoed Smith's concerns, saying, "To the people who told their stories to investigators and cheered the steps toward reforms, it sends a message that the Department of Justice is not going to keep up their end of the deal."
Though critics are preemptively calling foul for what they assume will be a deemphasis on protecting civil rights by the new administration, Sessions' memo made clear that one of the essential goals of the reviews is to better "protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public." Below are the other priorities:
- provide for the "safety and protection of the public"
- "promote officer safety, officer morale, and public respect for their work"
- when possible, getting the federal government out of the way of non-federal law enforcement agencies
- making sure the actions of "individual bad actors" do not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work of the majority of law enforcement officers
- collecting reliable statistics on crime and criminals in a timely fashion
- making law enforcement more appealing as a career that attracts well-qualified personnel
- ensuring that agencies that accept federal funds follow federal grant conditions and laws
The response to Sessions' memo begs the question: Which of those priorities are so "terrifying"? Perhaps the reason the new administration's critics are predicting the dismantling of Obama's "key legacy" is that it did not in fact promote many of these essential priorities.