The Obama Justice Department made a habit of federalizing local police forces by threatening litigation and securing a settlement in the form of a consent decree. That turned out to be an exercise in anti-police bias which, happily, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now reversing.
Police are the agents of government most often encountered by American citizens, and the most highly respected. Every jurisdiction in the country has some sort of law enforcement organization, and virtually every American citizen comes into contact with a police officer nearly every day. Accordingly, following the Founders’ ideas about federalism, local law enforcement departments are exactly that — local, as they should be.
The left has always disliked, and distrusted, the police. As with other establishments that preserve culture and civil society, law enforcement, according to the left, should be centrally controlled by bureaucratic experts in Washington. To many on the left, the police are little more than a bunch of brutal gun-toting, racist yahoos.
From time to time through his presidency, Barack Obama brought up the subject himself — pushed, no doubt, by his left-wing base. Just one example is the report of his hand-picked Task Force on 21st Century Policing, published in May 2015, which urged Washington to federalize police training and practices, via the use of federal lawsuits, grants and threats to cut federal aid. Al Sharpton — one of Mr. Obama’ s most frequent White House visitors — called for federalizing law enforcement during the Baltimore riots, demanding that the Justice Department “take over policing in this country.”
Others, including left-wing megadonor George Soros, have lent their voices and money to the cause. Mr. Soros’ Open Society Foundation has suggested taking advantage of police-related deaths such as in Ferguson, Mo, Staten Island and Baltimore to push for nationalization. But with Mr. Obama gone and Jeff Sessions at the helm of the Department of Justice, Messrs. Soros, Sharpton and others might as well be whistling in the wind.
In one of his first speeches as attorney general, Mr. Sessions said that the role of the federal government should be “to help police departments get better, not to diminish their effectiveness.” Consent decrees with the Department of Justice are often demoralizing to law enforcement, he said, and were detrimental to efficient policing and often put public safety in jeopardy. “Unfortunately,” Mr. Sessions said, “in recent years law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the crimes and unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors. Amid this intense public scrutiny and criticism, morale has gone down, while the number of police officers killed in the line of duty has gone up.”
Most of the two-dozen investigations of police departments started during the Obama years were premised on civil rights concerns, particularly those resulting from disproportionate arrests of minorities, and were aimed at injecting federal control and supervision of civil rights issue, even though much more than race was at stake — problems often involving economic, social and historical concerns.
Garry McCarthy, the former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department (who Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired after the uproar involving the Laquan McDonald case), criticized the Justice Department report involving the Chicago police for being totally predictable and based on Washington bureaucrats’ view of policing. According to Mr. McCarthy, in the eyes of the Obama Department of Justice, if more blacks are arrested than whites, the reason must be the inherent racism of the system and the racist attitudes of individual cops. “DOJ’s view,” Mr. McCarthy said, “would be that in Englewood, our most violent community and which is 97 percent African-American, we should be stopping 32 percent of white folks — which is not going to have an impact on crime. What we call data-driven policing, the Department of Justice calls systematic racism.”
Mr. Sessions’ criticism that these consent decrees are expensive is no exaggeration. Consent decrees are laden with mandates for training (including things like sensitivity training), requirements for massive amounts of data collection and analysis, changes in supervision requirements, review of promotions policy and other bureaucratic mandates, all of which cost not only money, but time that would otherwise be spent controlling crime and protecting public safety.
Justice Department consent decrees issued during the Obama years were largely political statements aimed at satisfying the Democratic base rather than being legitimate critiques of police department policy and procedures. With the Obama crowd gone, nothing could be more timely, and more appropriate, than a review and, to the extent possible, the de-implementation of these mandates.
• Alfred S. Regnery is chairman of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. He served in the Department of Justice during the Reagan administration.