Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday expanded the federal government’s role in investigating allegations of misconduct by local police departments by rescinding a Trump-era memo that limited the use of consent decrees.
In a memorandum to U.S. attorneys and Justice Department officials, Mr. Garland wrote that prosecutors can more easily use consent decrees and civil agreements to force changes to police departments accused of misconduct.
Consent decrees can also apply to other local government agencies.
Friday’s action rescinds a 2018 memo issued by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“This memorandum makes it clear that the department will use all appropriate legal authorities to safeguard civil rights and protect the environment, consistent with longstanding departmental practice and informed expertise of the department’s career workforce,” Mr. Garland said in a statement.
Consent decrees, which are court-enforceable agreements requiring departments accused of civil rights violations to shape up, were a tool used by the Obama administration to curtail patterns of police abuse.
The Obama-era Justice Department had reached agreements with departments in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray.
Mr. Sessions had long been skeptical of these investigations, saying they undermine respect for police officers and increase crime by hampering officers’ ability to do their jobs.
In his memo, Mr. Sessions told prosecutors to use “special caution” before entering into a consent decree, calling them “extraordinary measures” that should only be used sparingly.
But Mr. Garland wrote the decrees are valuable tools that help the Justice Department secure equal access and guard against civil rights violations.