If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is extremely skeptical of Obama-era federal police oversight and believes some efforts to reform police could actually increase crime.
On Friday morning, a federal judge denied the Justice Department’s request to delay the implementation of a deal between the federal government and Baltimore to reform the city’s police. The deal, called a consent decree, was negotiated with the city at the very end of Obama’s presidency, following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray at the hands of officers.
After U.S. District Judge James Bredar signed off on the consent decree, Sessions pushed back, saying the judge’s decision could make the city less safe.
“While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” Sessions said in a statement.
“The mayor and police chief in Baltimore say they are committed to better policing and that there should be no delay to review this decree,” he continued, “but there are clear departures from many proven principles of good policing that we fear will result in more crime.”
Sessions also noted that there has been an increase in homicides in Baltimore over the past few years. 2016 had the second highest number of homicides per capita on record, according to the Baltimore Sun, and 2015 had the most.
Sessions’ statement is his strongest criticism yet of consent decrees, which the DOJ can use to push police departments to make reforms. Negotiating consent decrees was a top priority of Obama’s Justice Department, with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division investigating departments around the country for evidence that they routinely violated people’s Constitutional rights. The division’s work was the most visible part of the Obama administration’s response to a rash of high-profile shootings of black men by white police officers.
Civil rights groups praised the division’s work, arguing it ultimately helped cut crime by improving relations between police officers and community members. But some police unions and conservatives criticized the undertaking, arguing it vilified police officers and cost cities too much money to implement.
Sessions has always been skeptical of consent decrees, but his statement today is unique because it shows he thinks these agreements can result in increased violence. Every consent decree is different, and Sessions’ statement shouldn’t be read as a broadside against all the agreements currently being enforced around the country, of which there are more than a dozen. But it indicates that he will be much, much, much more circumspect about using the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to push for change.