Hesitant to push fed control, Sessions clashes with Baltimore mayor & halts ‘Ferguson-style’ police reforms

The Justice Department asked a federal judge to postpone a hearing on a proposed reform agreement to overhaul the Baltimore police department.

Three days before a hearing scheduled before a federal judge, the department’s lawyers on Monday asked for a 90-day continuance to “review and assess” the agreement for any possible conflicts with the goals of new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Fox News reported.

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In a memo also released Monday,  Sessions ordered the Justice Department to perform an immediate “review of all Department activities,” including “existing or contemplated consent decrees.”

While the Obama administration saw investigations of police departments as a way to expose unconstitutional behaviors and hold local law enforcement accountable, Sessions has been generally opposed to more police oversight and lengthy probes that could adversely affect the entire agency.

The requested hearing delay could interrupt the process of overhauling the policies of the Baltimore Police Department, which came to an agreement on a consent decree with outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier this year.

The city “has made progress toward reform on its own and, as a consequence, it may be possible to take these changes into account where appropriate to ensure future compliance while protecting public safety,” the department said, noting that there is a need for police reform in Baltimore.

But the Baltimore Police Department and Mayor Catherine Pugh feel a delay would undermine public trust in the process.

“We want to move forward,” Pugh said, according to Fox News. “We want to work with our police department. We believe there are reforms needed.”

Sessions, however, pointed out in his memo that “local control and local accountability are necessary for effective policing,” in keeping with his view that officer morale is negatively impacted by investigations and violence can escalate in some cities where police are unwilling to aggressively defend the law.

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“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” he said.

The decree was prompted by the death of Freddie Gray during police custody and sparked widespread riots and dominated headlines last spring.

Similar reforms already exist for Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M., and Ferguson, Mo., but would be much harder for the current administration to change, Fox reported.

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