This is old news, but the EFFECT of it is more important now than ever. tRump is a disaster for criminal justice in many ways … from his use of private prisons (which Obama, wisely, was phasing out) to his total incompetence with the issues. He does not care about meaningful reform, does not care about individuals’ rights, and is as “lost in space”on criminal justice as he is on many other issues!
Remember, justice is the result sought. B4 this move by Sessions, the D OJ had significant clout to help lead toward that end. Not anymore.
Excerpts from the Article:
President Donald Trump’s decision in May 2018 to disband a National Security Council unit focused on preventing pandemics flew largely under the radar — until the coronavirus began its deadly march across the globe. Now, it’s the subject of widespread attention.
There’s a similar story unfolding around a different and less-noted decision made six months later by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one that’s now a key backdrop to the protests against police abuse of Black Americans that have swept the nation following the death last month of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers.
In November 2018, shortly before he left office, Sessions signed a memo restricting U.S. Department of Justice investigations into alleged abuse in local police departments. Such past probes — in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Newark, N.J., Detroit and beyond — had followed high-profile killings by police. Sessions’ move followed an 18-month review he’d ordered of all previous probes, some of them dating back decades.
Sessions’ decision significantly weakened a federal oversight tool the Department of Justice had used since 1994 to investigate allegations of police abuse and to force reforms through court-ordered consent decrees — sometimes the only viable route for causing systemic change in municipal police departments.
Sessions’ move set higher hurdles to start DOJ investigations of new claims of abuse, with more complex and difficult criteria. In formal resolutions, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners and their counterparts in other cities urged Sessions not to weaken the federal controls, to no avail. His successor, Attorney General William Barr, has kept those changes in place.
The FBI and DOJ are investigating Floyd’s death, but in light of Barr’s continuing restrictions, a broader probe of the entire Minneapolis police force is uncertain.
It worked in Detroit
In Detroit, a Free Press series about local police shootings of civilians sparked a DOJ probe that began in December 2000. The subsequent 30-month investigation focused on allegations of excessive force, illegal dragnet arrests and mistreatment of prisoners.
The investigation produced two June 2003 consent decrees that placed the Detroit Police Department under the supervision of a federal monitor to track compliance with 175 reforms. Key changes modified the department’s detention procedures and arrest criteria, along with the circumstances in which officers could use forceful restraint and fire or even point their weapons. Others revised use-of-force policies and training, putting an emphasis on de-escalation.
Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver, right, looks on during a 2003 press conference as U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins announces an agreement on two court-backed consent decrees that will force the DPD to cease practices that led to civil rights abuses. Also pictured are Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. With more than 200 citizen complaints having languished for years, the agreement compelled DPD to complete thorough internal probes of alleged police misconduct in a timely fashion.
The consent decrees were in effect until August 2014, followed by a two-year transition period to full freedom from federal oversight. Judith Levy, now a federal judge based in Ann Arbor, played a leading role in overseeing implementation of the police reforms as an assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit working in the office’s civil rights section. “Reforms were adopted, and they became Detroit Police Department policy,” Levy said in an interview. “It was painful, it was long, it was expensive, but we got it done. Of course, it’s way more expensive (for police) to shoot people and pay them in settlements.”
“It does affect morale, but it affects morale because too often police departments don’t want to change,” Levy said. “And perhaps the fact that it affects police morale speaks volumes about how concerned we ought to be about police culture. That’s the last reason to back off.”
“We are using the tools that we have,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “Where we think that things need to be investigated, we investigate them.”
While Schneider acknowledged that his office has received complaints about police, he repeatedly declined to say whether there are any current investigations based on those complaints. He pointed to a separate probe instead.
There’s literally no way to tell if any local police departments are under investigation. A DOJ website on the conduct of law enforcement agencies invites readers to click on links to see “results of our work.” But the page has not been updated since Sept. 4, 2017.
Former Detroit Deputy Mayor Saul Green was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan when the DOJ probe of the city police department began in late 2000. He and then-Mayor Dennis Archer had gone to Washington and argued for an investigation.
“Based on a series of police events relative to the use of force and deaths in holding cells, the decision was made to request that DOJ start an investigation,” Green said in an interview.
Among the signs that the DOJ probe and subsequent consent decrees produced results are a significant drop in lawsuits against the police department and reduced city payouts for abuse, the Detroit News reported earlier this month.
Even before the Detroit police department emerged from oversight, conditions improved. There were fewer fatal shootings of suspects and fewer false arrests, and fewer deaths in police holding cells, the Free Press reported. The number of holding-cell deaths also decreased, according to Bridge Magazine.
“It has had a beneficial effect in Detroit. I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Green said in an interview. “The police force is better trained, and they’re implementing the policies they’ve been trained upon. The result is you get policing that’s more equitable with fewer instances where citizens are harmed.”
Green, however, believes that such federal oversight doesn’t tackle broader social problems that police often are compelled to address.
“With all this talk about ‘defunding the police,’ what they’re really talking about is funding organizations that can address the hard problems police are really bad at,” he said. “Issues like mental health. They’re not trained in that. Homelessness is another issue they should not have to respond to. There’s a whole myriad of issues that police are called on to solve that they’re not trained in.”
During the protests over Floyd’s death, Detroit has not seen the looting, burned cars, damaged buildings or shootings of police that other cities have experienced.
Levy sees a clear link between the consent decree that reined in the police department here and the city’s relative lack of violence in recent weeks. And so she regrets that other police departments can’t benefit from the kind of DOJ investigation, thanks to Sessions and Barr that forced Detroit police to tackle deep-rooted problems.
“It’s too much work now if they use force,” she said. “Our consent decree redefined use of force. Now if you take your weapon out of the holster and acquire a target — any target, person, dog or house — you have to write a report justifying it. Cops don’t like to fill out paperwork.”