Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to restore the legitimacy of policing, so damaged by the Obama Justice Department. Ongoing conflicts in Milwaukee and Chicago show how difficult it will be to undo the previous administration’s legacy. Barack Obama’s Justice Department put more police departments under federal control than any previous administration; these federal consent decrees—binding agreements between a local agency and the federal government—cost police departments millions of dollars to implement and take dozens of officers off the street to fill out reams of paperwork within rigid deadlines. In 2011, the Justice Department started offering police departments “collaborative reform” as a less-burdensome alternative to the onerous consent-decree process. But collaborative reform soon morphed into consent-decree lite. The reports ran over 200 pages and contained scores of nitpicking recommendations. And when the Justice Department looked more closely, it was not at all clear that the agency that ran collaborative reform—the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)—had the statutory authority for such adversarial audits.
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