Op-Ed in the NY Times:
By VANITA GUPTA and COREY STOUGHTON
APRIL 5, 2017
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered a review of federal agreements with a number of local law enforcement agencies aimed at reforming troubled departments. As a first step, the Justice Department on Monday asked a judge to delay a consent decree that would overhaul Baltimore’s police force.
On its face, Mr. Sessions’s order simply asks whether the consent decrees promote public safety, support officers, respect local control and are warranted. But underlying the order is the Trump administration’s belief that efforts to align police practices with the Constitution have compromised public safety and thrown police officers under the bus.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Countless police chiefs and mayors are vocal about wanting federal reform or have emerged from the consent decree process remarking that their departments were the better for it. Mr. Sessions claims to want to revert to local control, but he should listen to local officials like Baltimore’s police commissioner, Kevin Davis, who called the Justice Department’s request to delay the reform agreement “a punch in the gut” and noted that “a consent decree will make the Baltimore police department better both with the crime fight and our community relationships.”
No matter what review Mr. Sessions conducts, he cannot unilaterally undo these reform agreements. That’s because the district courts that oversee them will ultimately decide their fate. In addition, the reforms are negotiated with local elected officials and law enforcement leaders, with extensive input from grass-roots organizations, police unions, officers and civilians. Mr. Sessions can try to undermine them, but many of the reforms are durable.
That’s good, because communities around the country need this work to continue. In cities like Ferguson, Mo., Chicago and Baltimore, federal reform addresses unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, and excessive and retaliatory force. These problems erode trust between police departments and the communities they serve, trust that is essential to effective policing as well as officer and public safety.
Rebuilding these ties is also necessary for preventing and solving crime. Few in law enforcement would disagree with this. When we worked on police reform at the Justice Department, we heard over and over again from officers and community members during our investigations in Baltimore and Chicago that relationships had broken down so badly, witnesses sometimes refused to share vital information and victims declined police assistance.
Mr. Sessions’s suggestion that the Justice Department’s policing agreements interfere with proactive policing is likewise baseless. There is no question that lawful stops, arrests and, at times, the use of force are all necessary tools for ensuring public safety. But Baltimore’s misguided zero-tolerance policing strategy, for example, severely damaged police-community relations, especially in black neighborhoods. Even the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police acknowledged that officers felt “pressure to achieve numbers for perception’s sake.”
And, Seattle’s recent experience shows that Federal intervention and consent decrees improve policing and saves lives, as shown by this report in the Seattle Times:
“Five years after the U.S. Justice Department found Seattle police officers too often resorted to excessive force, the federal monitor overseeing court-ordered reforms issued a glowing report Thursday concluding the department has carried out a dramatic turnaround.
Crediting Mayor Ed Murray, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and, most of all, the Seattle Police Department’s men and women, the monitor, Merrick Bobb, found overall use of force is down and, when officers do use it, it is largely handled in a reasonable way consistent with department policies.
As a result, Bobb found the department to be in substantial compliance — formally known as initial compliance — with core provisions of a 2012 consent decree that required the city to adopt new policies and training to address excessive force.
“The significance and importance of this finding cannot be understated, as this report makes clear,” Bobb wrote in the 102-page assessment. “It represents a singular and foundational milestone on SPD’s road to full and effective compliance — and represents Seattle crystallizing into a model of policing for the 21st century.”
Moreover, use of force has dropped even as officer injuries have not gone up and crime, by most measures, has not increased, Bobb and his monitoring team write in the report.
O’Toole shared the results in a departmentwide email Monday afternoon, saying, “In short, the Monitor’s assessment confirms the data that SPD reported on earlier this year: of the hundreds of thousands of unique incidents to which SPD officers respond every year, only a small fraction of one percent result in any use of force.”
The report, which has been in the works for some time, comes days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to conduct a review of reform agreements with more than a dozen police agencies nationwide to determine whether they, among other things, undermine officer safety and crime fighting.
While the order could undercut newer agreements reached under the civil-rights emphasis during the Obama administration, officials have said it is unlikely to affect Seattle’s pact because it is under the firm control of a federal judge.
The judge, James Robart, has shown an unwavering commitment to Seattle’s consent decree, even declaring “black lives matter” during a court hearing, and earlier this year halted the Trump administration’s first travel ban.
In a statement Tuesday, Murray said, “Our progress under the Consent Decree cannot be undone by empty bureaucratic threats. Our police department is well into the process of reform and will continue this work. We are too far along for President Trump to pull us away from justice.”
Read the complete article here: http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/in-major-step-federal-monitor-finds-seattle-police-use-of-force-reforms-are-working/?utm_source=The+Seattle+Times&utm_campaign=fe0fd2fdf6-Alert_Dramatic_turnaround_in_Seattle_PD’s_use_of_f&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5beb38b61e-fe0fd2fdf6-122767877
Must be hard for current and former DOJ Civil Rights Division attorneys, who have spent years painstakingly investigating, drafting, and negotiating agreements to promote effective, constitutional policing to see their work being trashed by a guy who has spent most of his career trying to limit civil and human rights. Been there myself, in a somewhat different context, and it’s very disheartening and maddening.
While I don’t have much optimism that career attorneys in the DOJ will be able to stand up to Sessions and keep their jobs, it is encouraging that many of the jurisdictions, police departments, and Federal Judges involved in the consent decree process intend to keep the ball rolling despite Session’s attempts to undermine their efforts.
And, certainly advocates, like Gupta and Stoughton in their new “private sector” positions, intend to keep the pressure on even if it means doing battle with the Trumped-up Sessions version of the DOJ. Forget civil rights, gotta keep a close eye on what those H-1B workers and their employers are up to.