One of the clear messages the American people sent to Washington, D.C. and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on Nov. 8 was: no more persecuting of police departments by the federal government.
For the past eight years, the Obama administration has been using the controversial practice of “sue and settle” to engage in a federal takeover of local police and corrections departments.
The Civil Rights Division at the DOJ files a suit against a city, county, or state, alleging constitutional and civil rights violations by the police or at the prison, and the local government simply agrees, resulting in wide-reaching policy changes being imposed on local police and corrections departments via the federal court order.
On Nov. 17, 2015, Vanita Gupta testified to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts that, “The Department is currently enforcing 16 agreements with law enforcement agencies, including 13 consent decrees. Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division has opened 23 investigations into police departments.” Since Gupta testified, additional agreements have been reached with Miami, Newark, Ferguson, and Chicago.
These consent decrees govern everything from the use of force to searches, on-body cameras, and more. In short, Obama has been regulating every aspect of policing in over a dozen cities — and pushing for more. No doubt some of these takeovers were initiated because of serious civil rights violations, but the goal of the administration has not been to address the real issues that do exist — but rather to exert undue federal authority in an attempt to increasingly control local policing.
But no longer. Now that Donald Trump has been elected president, when he gets to the White House in January, he can undo the damage caused by having his Justice Department simply settle all the cases that overreach.
Obama implemented these decrees via executive action and prosecutorial discretion — and now they can be undone in precisely the same way.
But to prevent this from happening again, the decrees were implemented under 42 U.S.C. § 14141, a section of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, granting the attorney general the power to prosecute law enforcement misconduct.
Therefore, in addition to executive action, Congress should do police departments nationwide a favor and review this section of the law. The Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department should not be serving as unchecked internal affairs investigators of every police department in the country. It is not only a violation of the very principle of federalism — it is a potentially dangerous erosion of local government.
The single most conservative act the new president can engage in is to restore local control over police departments and bring an end to the war on police once and for all. And then encourage them to restore law and order in America’s cities.
The rule of law starts at the top, and with a President Trump, you can bet police will get a green light to get back to work and make America safe again. No more putting targets on cops.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.