WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies, an examination that reflects President Trump’s emphasis on law and order and could lead to a retreat on consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide.
In a memorandum dated March 31 and made public Monday, the attorney general directed his staff to look at whether law enforcement programs adhere to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one declaring that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the work police officers perform “in keeping American communities safe.”
As part of its shift in emphasis, the Justice Department went to court on Monday to seek a 90-day delay in a consent decree to overhaul Baltimore’s embattled Police Department. That request came just days before a hearing, scheduled for Thursday in the United States District Court in Baltimore, to solicit public comment on the agreement, which was reached in principle by the city and the Justice Department in the waning days of the Obama administration.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said late Monday that the city would “strongly oppose any delay in moving forward.” Supporters of police reform called on Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the negotiations between Baltimore and the Justice Department, to deny the request, arguing that Mr. Sessions was interfering with the will of the city.
In a speech in February, his first as attorney general, he said that the federal government’s role should be to “help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness.” Mr. Sessions said the agreements were demoralizing to the police and could be generating a rise in violence and murders in some large cities, a contention that has been challenged by many criminologists.
Kristen Clarke, who leads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which has fought for greater federal oversight of troubled police departments, said the request for a delay in the Baltimore case was deeply troubling.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions is undermining and obstructing extensive efforts that have been made to promote policing reform in a small set of the most broken police departments in our country,” she said.