Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday blamed the Obama administration for crime increases in Chicago and other large cities, saying the deals the Justice Department cut have ended up tying the hands of police officers.
Mr. Sessions said his predecessors at the department pushed “disastrous” consent decrees with communities, putting new restrictions on how police could carry out their duties.
“Colossal mistakes have been made by politicians and leaders that have had particular catastrophic consequences for the people of cities like Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis,” Mr. Sessions said, ticking off three municipalities he claims have been hurt by consent decrees.
Nowhere was that more apparent, he said, than in Chicago, where the police department signed an agreement with American Civil Liberties Union and “radical activists” which took effect in 2016 — and the murder rate soared.
He said 765 people were murdered that year in the city, compared to an average of 454 people a year over the decade before the consent decree was adopted.
“That means 311 Chicagoans — friends, neighbors, moms, dads — were killed in 2016 who might still be alive if the murder rate stayed at the 10-year average,” Mr. Sessions said at the Valor Survive and Thrive law enforcement conference in Illinois.
In the 2016 consent decree Chicago agreed to limit police “stop and frisk” encounters.
Samuel Walker, who teaches criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha, doubted that led directly to the increase in murders.
“One thing criminologists know is that there are many factors that lead to increases in crime,” he said. “Effective and reputable criminologists would argue that it is not one particular factor.”
Mr. Sessions has long criticized consent decrees. Last year, he ordered the Justice Department to review all existing consent decrees. As a Republican senator in 2008, Mr. Sessions called the decrees “dangerous” and “constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
Police departments across the country operating under such agreements have stopped and searched fewer suspects, according to multiple research studies. While Mr. Sessions said reducing police stops has allowed “bloodshed” to take place, Mr. Walker said it has lead to smarter policing.
“If police officers are stopping people for whom there is no reasonable suspicion, they are not only violating someone’s civil rights, they are wasting their own time,” Mr. Walker said.
Chicago is not the only city where Mr. Sessions cited a link between a consent decree and an increase in violent crime. Since a consent decree was adopted in Baltimore, following the death of Freddie Gray in the back of a police van, homicides in that city have increased by 62.5 percent and rapes more than tripled, he said.
“There’s a clear lesson here: if you want more shootings and more death, then listen to the ACLU, Black Lives Matter or antifa,” the attorney general said. “If you want public safety, then listen to the police professionals who have been studying this for 35 years.”
Mr. Sessions praised the Trump administration’s handling of law enforcement, telling officers that they will not be micromanaging their efforts to battle crime.
“Based on my experience meeting with officers like you across the country, I believe that morale has already improved under President Trump,” he said. “I can feel the difference.”
Mr. Sessions’ remarks came hours after President Trump blasted his attorney general in an interview with The Hill.
“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Mr. Trump said, claiming “a lot of people” have asked him to fire Mr. Sessions because he recused himself from the Russia investigation.