Attorney General’s Sweeping Review Marks a Federal Retreat from Constitutional Policing and a Battle Cry for Chicago-Led Reform

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order last Friday directing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies marks the first step in a federal retreat from the consent decrees negotiated under the Obama Administration that would ensure constitutional policing in departments across the country, including potentially in the city of Chicago.

The Police Accountability Collaborative, a group of civil rights advocates and government watchdogs formed after the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, is doubling down on its efforts to advocate for the reforms outlined in the DOJ’s own recommendations following a yearlong investigation of Chicago’s Police Department that found officers routinely use unreasonable force without transparency or accountability.

After the DOJ released its report on the Chicago Police Department in the final day of the Obama Administration, some police reform advocates in Chicago hoped that a federal consent decree could still be pushed through before the new administration, which vowed to dismantle federal oversight, was installed.

“We’ve known this was coming since the new Administration took office,” said Executive Director Bonnie Allen of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee. “This announcement doesn’t change the nature of our work pressing for local leadership to advance reform. It just underscores the need for it.”

Chicago’s continuous battle with gun violence stems from more than a century of manufactured residential segregation, community disenfranchisement, and high levels of incarceration in communities of color. These deeply embedded community problems have contributed to the incubation of an underground economy, often driven by the very violence and gang activity that our current Chicago police force aims to mitigate.

Our President’s call for the use of federal law enforcement to resolve issues related to entrenched racial barriers and structural inequities is misguided. As the DOJ report observed, city centers with high concentrations of communities of color must come to an agreement that mediates the relationship between the police force and the communities they serve. A retreat on consent decrees nationwide, and locally within Chicago, will only result in further perpetuation of the unlawful use of excessive police force revealed in the DOJ’s report.