During Barack Obama's presidency, the Department of Justice launched probes into several of the nation's police departments to investigate claims of police brutality, misconduct, and racial bias. As a result of these investigations, several police departments signed consent decrees mandating changes to policies such as training, discipline, recruiting, and acceptable use of force. Currently, there are 14 police departments operating under the decrees, including Baltimore, Seattle, and Miami.
Now that Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are out of the picture, police unions are hopeful that the Trump administration will allow them to renegotiate the consent decrees. Jeff Sessions, Trump's choice for Attorney General, has been critical of the federally-mandated police reforms. Jim Pasco, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that he has found that Sessions is “a man who’s willing to listen to alternatives to a previously charted course.”
Critics of the agreements cite the high cost of the reforms, which must be paid for by city or state governments. Ferguson, Missouri has missed several deadlines for implementing reforms, due in part to the high costs involved. Police unions are hopeful that Sessions, who has commented that the decrees “undermine respect for officers,” will let departments back out of the agreements. When asked about the consent decrees during his confirmation hearings, Sessions only answered that he “wouldn’t commit that there wouldn’t be any changes.”
Civil rights advocates are alarmed that the agreements might be renegotiated, potentially allowing police to return to patterns of misconduct and racial bias. Some cities forced to implement reforms, like Los Angeles, have seen declines in police use of force, and a subsequent increase in public relations with the police. Sam Smoot, director of the Police Benevolent & Protective Association of Illinois, said that the reforms have some positive impact, such as allowing police departments to invest in better equipment and hire additional officers.