The Biden Justice Department’s decision to return to the Obama administration’s heavy use of consent decrees is being criticized by law enforcement officials and advocates who fear it will handicap police and erode community-police relations.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department will be conducting a civil “pattern or practice” investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department following the death of George Floyd.
Garland’s announcement came the day after a jury in Minneapolis convicted Derek Chauvin for second-degree murder in the death of Floyd.
The attorney general said during a press conference that the investigation was opened to address “systemic policing issues” and will examine whether the Minneapolis Police Department has a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”
The announcement by Garland marks the department’s first step in returning to the Obama administration’s progessive police reform agenda and heavy use of consent decrees.
The Obama-era approach came under harsh criticism from former President Trump’s DOJ, which said consent decrees were overused and a harmful federal intrusion on law enforcement. In 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo directing the agency to sharply limit their use.
Last week, Garland rescinded the Trump-era memo, making it easier for the Biden DOJ to use consent decrees as an enforcement tool.
Jason Johnson, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and former deputy commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department, told Fox News that although Biden’s decision to roll back the memo is “not a surprise,” the move is problematic for law enforcement.
Johnson said that although some law enforcement agencies need “top to bottom” reform, including the Baltimore Police Department, which entered into a consent decree with DOJ in 2017 after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, the issue is that consent decrees themselves are damaging.
Because a DOJ pattern or practice investigation, which results in a court binding consent decree, usually takes years to conduct, it can be destructive to police officers trying to do their daily jobs and also erode public trust in law enforcement.
Under a federal investigation, police officers “will feel micromanaged and criticized,” said Johnson. “They will feel unappreciated. They will feel that the solutions are worse than the disease.”
He elaborated, “if the solution is that officers can’t do their jobs and violence increases, and that is the likely result when police officers cannot do their jobs, then the treatment is worse than the disease.”
National Police Association spokesperson Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith told Fox News, “the National Police Association opposes these consent decrees that reduce officer safety and, very often, increase the dangers that criminals pose to the community.”
Smith explained that because law enforcement officers are hamstrung under consent decrees, they can inadvertently give criminals greater leeway to commit crimes and endanger the community.
Smith also called Garland’s announcement Wednesday to open an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department “irresponsible and dangerous” due to the politicization of the Chauvin case.
“The current action by the attorney general seems rather punitive, based on the Chauvin verdict yesterday. And even before the verdict, it has been so politicized. And the Biden administration especially has made some unfortunate statements while the jury was still trying to decide the situation.”
The executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, Bill Johnson, told Fox News that he was “reviewing the attorney general’s announcement.”
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.