April 4, 2017; U.S. News & World Report
While a number of police unions have expressed support for the measure, city and police leaders in Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans have pushed back against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan to place police reform consent decrees on hold for 90 days for review. Many see the move as a possible preliminary step toward elimination of the agreements altogether.
In Baltimore, where Freddie Gray was shot, where relations between residents and police are tense, and where a consent decree is already in place following the issuance of a scorching report, both Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis made statements declaring their opposition to any delay.
Davis held his own press conference, pointing to existing momentum on police reform, including body-worn cameras, a revised use-of-force and Taser policy, and a transparency page on the Baltimore Police Department website. But, he said, the consent decree is a help because it “binds” the commissioner and the mayor to “get reforms enacted” on a “timeline that is not necessarily [their] own,” as overseen by a federal judge.
Sessions has referred to the reports on (and agreements with) Ferguson and Chicago as “anecdotal and not-so-scientifically based,” although he also confessed to not having actually read them. The Baltimore report can be accessed here, so you can judge the rigor for yourself.
In Chicago, which does not yet have a formal consent degree with the U.S. Department of Justice, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Chief Eddie Johnson issued a joint statement pledging to forge forward with police reform.
“We can only speak for our intentions, we can’t speak for the federal government’s,” the statement read. “The reforms we have made over the past year are built on the principles of partnership and trust between our residents and our officers, and they laid the foundation for the 2017 reform plan we outlined just a few weeks ago.”
Jonathan Aronie, who is lead monitor for the agreement between the DOJ and New Orleans, said, “The consent decree is in place. There are no changes to it. The court will continue to monitor the implementation of the decree that benefits the citizens of New Orleans and is supported by the city and the police department.” Beau Tidwell, speaking for the New Orleans police in a statement Tuesday, is quoted as saying the department is “committed to the process of reform, because we believe embracing 21st century policing is the right thing to do for our department and for our residents.”
NAACP President Cornell Brooks has called Sessions’ latest move “somewhere between chilling and alarming.”
“Consent decrees are the means by which you provide a hedge of protection, civil rights and civil liberties,” Brooks said. “Why would our attorney general upend and undo that? This review and potential reversal represents a potentially catastrophic, life-or-death consequence for cities where citizens feel like they’re under siege.”—Ruth McCambridge