Trump Administration May Act to Upend Police Regulations
By Zac Pingle, Staff Writer
Since the inauguration of President Trump, police unions have been working to contest “consent decrees” that were used during the Obama administration to curb excessive police force, racial bias, and other issues.
In September, Trump attended a meeting with Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association president, Steve Loomis, to discuss concerns of interference from the Department of Justice in police affairs. “I think he’s going to have a more sensible approach to rising crime rates,” said Loomis, “What I got from the meeting was that Donald Trump is going to be a very strong supporter of law and order.”
Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has also been meeting with police unions to discuss renegotiation of consent decrees, arguing that they “undermine respect for officers.” However, the process may become drawn out, as any changes to a consent decree would also require the approval from a federal judge and any other involved parties.
The Two Sides of Police Consent Decrees
Consent decrees were adopted by Congress in 1994 for use in police affairs as agreements between the police and the Department of Justice. Specifically, consent decrees create certain rules for a police department to follow, such as training requirements, improved officer supervision, and procedures to curtail unnecessary violence. To make sure that consent decrees are followed, a federal court will appoint a monitor to oversee a police department.
Like many other parts of government, consent decrees have benefits and drawbacks.
Many police unions argue that consent decrees are costly and ineffective. For example, some consent decrees require that police stations acquire expensive equipment and hire more staff. Police unions have also complained that consent decrees increase stigma against police due to investigations conducted by federal monitors, and limit the ability of police to enforce the law.
In recent years, the number of police consent decrees has increased rapidly. The Obama administration entered into 24 consent decrees with police departments. To put this into perspective, only 11 were signed during the previous Bush administration.
On the other hand, civil rights groups argue that consent decrees help to curtail police brutality and bias. For example, in Los Angeles reports of excessive police force have gone down after the implementation of consent decrees. This is due in large part to reform of police practices when enforcing the law and adaptation of officer supervision via body cameras.
However, some police departments have skipped deadlines for reform in the past and fight against consent decrees in court. Jim Pasco, head of the Fraternal Order of Police (the largest police union in the country) is also aiming to discuss future reform with Sessions, stating “there are certainly decrees that are inartfully applied that we’d like to see revisited.”