This story is over 5 years old.

Jeff Sessions may block federal reform of Baltimore’s troubled police department

The city of Baltimore wants federally regulated police reform, but U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may not let them have it.

During testimony in Baltimore Thursday morning, John Gore, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said Sessions had “grave concerns” that a proposed court-enforced agreement, or consent decree, wouldn’t “achieve the goals of public safety and law enforcement while at the same time protecting civil rights.”


Sessions wrote in a memo released Monday that policing should be managed at a local level, not by the federal government.

Sessions’ concerns appear to echo those of police unions, with whom Sessions met ahead of launching a federal review of existing consent decrees. But Baltimore city officials, including Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, don’t share those concerns. Nor do the dozens of community members who came to the hearing to share their experiences with police violence, including two mothers whose sons were shot and killed by Baltimore police, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The proposed consent decree is the culmination of a federal investigation into Baltimore police practices in the wake of the 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody, an incident that sparked riots in the city. The DOJ published a damning report of the Baltimore Police Department’s practices last August, revealing racial bias “at every level” of policing.

Davis said Tuesday that he wants federally enforced police reform.

“We know that a consent decree will make the Baltimore police department better both with crime fight[ing] and community relations,” Davis said. “These reforms are going to take place no matter what.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and other city officials offered similar sentiments. Acting city solicitor David Ralph said that the deal brokered with the Obama administration was done so thoughtfully, with “deep input from the community, careful consideration of public safety, and measures to better train and equip police officers,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

Sessions’ actions so far as attorney general, combined with statements he’s made in the past, suggest that a rollback of police reform efforts may be underway at the federal level, but that doesn’t mean police reform is dead. A report on policing released Thursday by the Vera Institute of Justice found that 34 states and the District of Columbia had enacted “at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions in 2015 and 2016 to change some aspect of policing policy and practice,” which the organization described as a “marked contrast to the relatively few laws related to policing that were passed by states between 2012 and 2014.”