Civil rights groups alarmed over retreat on police reforms

Apr 15, 2017, 00:57

Deputies for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' asked Bredar to consider the postponement as the proposed reforms supposedly stood in opposition to the Trump administration's crime fighting agenda.

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.

Many of the Obama-era investigations took place amid a string of high-profile police killings of minorities that sparked protests across the country.

Gene Ryan, president of Baltimore's police union, has complained that the union wasn't involved enough in the negotiations, and he supported the Justice Department's request to delay the proceedings.

However, U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar denied that request today-not for political reasons, but because it was made just days before a scheduled public hearing about the decree, which had been scheduled since February, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Officials in both cities said they would press ahead with reforms despite the memo.

The U.S. Department of Justice said this week it will review its past agreements with law enforcement agencies nationwide.

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Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior declined comment. The Seattle police department, the statement said, is a national leader in reform: "We remain committed to constitutional and effective policing in our city". Ferguson reached agreement with the Justice Department a year ago, settling a lawsuit over racially biased police and court practices in the St. Louis suburb.

"I don't know if the officer was anxious, but he shouldn't have been the judge, jury and executioner", said Darlene Cain, who said she lost her 29-year-old son. "I want to tell him what's really going on".

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Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, also expressed his commitment to the reforms.

Baltimore officials are telling a federal judge they want to move forward with a plan to overhaul the city's troubled police department despite a Justice Department request to delay it.

The potential rollback of these consent decrees could also affect cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle and Ferguson, Missouri.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling that some major changes to the way police departments are investigated might be coming soon. "How we got here, where we're at, where we're headed", Loomis said.

Trump has often decried Chicago's rising murder rate, threatening in January to "send in the feds". That includes scrutinizing the effectiveness of existing and proposed consent decrees that involve courts enforcing police reforms.

Advocates who spoke with The Stranger also don't seem anxious about Sessions' announcement.

One example is the Mondawmin and Woodbrook neighborhoods of Baltimore, where tempers flared after local residents said police officers' behavior exacerbated tensions in the days after Freddie Gray's death in April 2015.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd ward, and council's police and fire committee chairman, said he does not mind the idea of reviewing the effectiveness of the consent decree.

Maryland lawmakers say they have written to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked him to rescind a request the Justice Department made to delay police reforms.