Will Trump Reverse Obama’s Push For Greater Police Oversight?
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department used its oversight authority to push for fundamental changes in the way local law-enforcement agencies interact with the communities they serve. Now under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the federal government seems poised to pull back on that kind of enforcement — pleasing police officers but worrying activists.
Obama’s Justice Department greatly expanded both the number and scope of “consent decrees,” legally enforceable agreements with police departments on issues such as racial discrimination, use of force and unlawful stops and seizures. The Obama administration used the consent decree process to push for changes in places such as Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, after high-profile killings by police.
The Justice Department’s authority to investigate police departments stems in part from an earlier high-profile incident of police violence: the 1991 Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. Congress later passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which, among other provisions, tasked the Justice Department with investigating systematic misconduct in law enforcement agencies. To do so, the Justice Department identifies police departments that have a “pattern or practice” of violating the constitutional rights of a city’s residents and then either reaches voluntary memorandums of agreement outlining how the departments will address the problems or, if those negotiations fail, goes to court to pursue a legally binding consent decree. In cases of court-ordered consent decrees, judges often appoint monitors to make sure the changes are carried out.