Jeff Sessions is handling Chicago's police misconduct issues in a deeply disturbing way

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UPDATED 2/28/17 2:52 ET:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday that the Justice Department would "pull back" from the Obama-era strategy of proactively suing police departments for civil rights violations against communities of color.

"We need, so far as we can, to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness. And I'm afraid we've done some of that," Sessions said during a meeting of the nation's state attorneys general, as reported by NBC News. "So we're going to try to pull back on this."

He went on to say that the move would not be "wrong or insensitive to civil rights or human rights."


The people on the other side of the Chicago police force's “pattern or practice of unreasonable force" would likely disagree.

On the same day the Justice Department announced it was doing a 180 on a voting rights case in Texas, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the agency hadn't decided whether or not to impose reforms on the Chicago Police Department even after a damning federal report on its officers' use of excessive force and racist conduct.


As Reuters reported, after the report was released in January, "Chicago and federal officials signed an agreement in principle to create a court-enforced consent decree addressing the issues revealed by the probe." The consent decree, which is essentially a settlement to resolve the issue without the department having to admit guilt, must be negotiated between the two parties and then approved by a federal judge.

Under Obama, the DOJ mandated 11 law enforcement agencies comply with reforms through consent decrees. But that could change under Sessions, who has criticized the Obama administration's approach to police reform as "troubling" and come out against the enforcement of consent decrees in other cases.


Sessions is also, as a general rule, opposed to looking at police violence and misconduct as a systemic issue, instead using the framing of bad apples or rogue officers to minimize the problem of police acting with impunity.

He used that framing as part of his testimony before the Senate during his confirmation hearings:

I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong. These lawsuits undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness.


But this is precisely what the federal report on the Chicago police force concluded—that a “pattern or practice of unreasonable force” violated residents' civil rights.

As my colleague Rafi Schwartz wrote at the time, the report, which was prompted by a video of police shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, also found that misconduct largely went unpunished within the department: “The City received over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct during the five years preceding our investigation, but fewer than 2% were sustained, resulting in no discipline in 98% of these complaints.”


But on Monday, Sessions criticized the DOJ's report as "pretty anecdotal" and "not so scientifically based."

Among those anecdotes are accounts of Chicago cops opening fire on a residential street at an unarmed man who had been fidgeting with his waistband:


Shooting an unarmed man in the back after a plainclothes officer jumped from an unmarked car and chased after him:


And shooting another unarmed man in the back and accepting an officer's account of the incident despite contradictory video evidence:


"I have not made a decision about [negotiating the consent decree], but I am really worried about Chicago," Sessions said on Monday. But based on his record, the concern may be more for the morale among Chicago's police force–which he also addressed during his Senate confirmation hearings–than residents living under its reign.