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Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions limits federal oversight of local law enforcement.

Since 1994, consent decrees have been an important and efficient means to establish federal oversight when local law enforcement has engaged in unconstitutional conduct.42 U.S.C. § 14141. For the history of consent decrees see Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “‘It Did Not Stick’: The First Federal Effort to Curb Police Abuse,” New York Times, April 9, 2017. But as one of his final actions before leaving office in November, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo severely impairing the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ability to use this tool.Memorandum from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Heads of Civil Litigating Components, U.S. Attorneys re: Principles and Procedures for Civil Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements with State and Local Governmental Entities, November 7, 2018. Under the new policy, DOJ is directed to tailor agreements as narrowly as possible to a specific incident or issue and to make any consent decree duration as short as possible—ideally 24 months at most.Sessions, Principles and Procedures for Civil Consent Decrees and Settlement Agreements, 2018. While the Fraternal Order of Police applauded the memo, saying that it would “ensure that consent decrees will not be lengthy, open-ended arrangements with burdensome requirements,” civil rights advocates condemned the move and urged DOJ to reverse course.Jacey Fortin, “Jeff Sessions Limited Consent Decrees. What about the Police Departments Already Under Reform?” New York Times, November 15, 2018. The United States Commission on Civil Rights devoted several pages to the matter in its November briefing on police accountability, showing that departments with federal oversight demonstrate substantial changes after intervention, including fewer use-of-force incidents, declining crime rates, and increased officer morale.United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), “Police Use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices,” briefing report (Washington, DC: United States Commission on Civil Rights, November 15, 2018), 86-95, 92. Ron Davis, the previous director of DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office, called the move “one that’s absent of science and one that ignores evidence.”USCCR, “Police Use of Force,” 89. And Christy Lopez, a former DOJ lawyer and a professor at Georgetown Law School, says that the memo “undermines the effectiveness” of consent decrees already in place, as well as making it clear the administration is taking a hands-off approach to new violations by local law enforcement.Fortin, “Jeff Sessions Limited Consent Decrees,” 2018. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions’s successor, William Barr, told Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) that he would provide a list of consent decrees that have been withdrawn by DOJ, as well as any consent decrees he withdraws from, should he be confirmed.Statement of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, “Senator Harris Opposes Nomination of William Barr to be Attorney General,” Democratic Party Fresno County, January 18, 2019.