Under the Obama administration, 14 police departments around the country entered into a “consent decree” with the U.S. Department of Justice. This means they agreed to have policing practices—including officer behavior in response to specific 911 calls—monitored and reviewed.
Police One reports that the monitor is “often … a federal judge or another third party.”
Such decrees normally follow accusations of the use of “excessive force,” which can result from a cell phone video of an officer-involved shooting or a complaint by an eyewitness or advocacy group on behalf of an individual arrested or singled out for questioning.
New Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling a change in this policy because of the way it can shackle officers, preventing them from carrying out their jobs effectively.
A column by The Hill’s opinion contributor, A. Benjamin Mannes, pointed to the inefficiency and burdensome paperwork/filings that Seattle’s Police Department faces via their “consent decree” with the DOJ.New Attorney General Jeff Sessions is signaling a change in this policy because of the way it can shackle officers, preventing them from carrying out their jobs effectively.
“Seattle, which has less than 1,500 officers policing a city of 650,000; has had its booking time tripled since the advent of the consent decree; requiring lengthy, obtrusive officer questionnaires that delve far beyond the probable cause necessary for the arrest,” Mannes wrote. “As the booking time is tripled, the arresting officer is off the street and not covering their sector, leaving the area more vulnerable to crime.”
Mannes points out that the DOJ seeks “consent decrees” after investigating a police department, but he notes that such an investigation is often carried out by “investigators in the field … [with] no field law enforcement experience, and [use] mainly anecdotal evidence from members of a high-crime community which [include] those facing criminal charges; with little to no independent corroboration.”
The Baltimore Sun’s report on how Seattle came to the point of accepting a “consent decree” appears to substantiate Mannes’ point:
Federal investigators in 2011 determined that Seattle police had engaged in a practice of excessive force, especially when using batons and flashlights. They also found that a small number of officers was responsible for a large percentage of excessive force incidents and that the department had no adequate system to identify them. Out of the "approximately 1,230 internal use of force reports" that investigators reviewed from a 27-month year period, "only five were referred for 'further review' at any level within the Seattle police department," federal records show.
Note: “A small number of officers” was responsible for the complaints filed against the overall force, yet Seattle entered into a “consent decree” one year later.
These decrees have caused officers in other departments to refrain from using force, even to hesitate from drawing their guns when the situation calls for it. In other words, the decrees force officers to second-guess themselves and possibly to put the department’s public relations reputation above personal safety.
Yet in cities like Baltimore and Chicago—both of which have “consent decrees” with the DOJ—murder and violence continue unabated. This is another important point: Legal mechanisms that force officers to ignore their training and common sense in exchange for inefficient policies are correlating with death and mayhem in Baltimore and Chicago.… the decrees force officers to second-guess themselves and possibly to put the department’s public relations reputation above personal safety.
Consider the fact that approximately 95 people had already been murdered in Baltimore by Wednesday. At such a pace, Baltimore is on track for the same number of murders witnessed in that city in 2016. And that is saying a lot when you consider that 318 people were murdered in Baltimore last year, making it the second deadliest year on record. 2017 is on track to hit a similar level of homicides with the “consent decree” in place.
Meanwhile, according to the Chicago Tribune, there were 786 homicides in the Windy City in 2016, and already 170 by the time of this writing. With 11 more days left in April and eight more months after that, Chicago could easily witness the same number of homicides it saw in 2017, if not more.
Given the totality of these things—the way “consent decrees” shackle whole departments over the behavior of a few officers, the way they increase inefficiency, and the way murder in cities like Baltimore and Chicago continues apace with the decrees in place—AG Sessions is signaling a change. CNN reported that he made this clear during his January Senate confirmation hearings.
“I think there is concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department that have done wrong,” Sessions said. “These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness, and we need to be careful before we do that.”
AWR Hawkins is the Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and host of Bullets with AWR Hawkins, a Breitbart News podcast. He is also the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter @AWRHawkins, or reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.