Police reform advocates and community activists are voicing concerns over new U.S. Department of Justice guidelines governing the use of consent decrees that they say could curtail the monitoring of Long Island law-enforcement agencies for alleged discrimination and civil rights violations.
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed off on the new guidelines in a memo before he was fired in November by President Donald Trump. It mandates that top officials at the Justice Department approve the monitoring agreements instead of the lower-level career prosecutors who have handled the cases in the past and says the provisions must be “narrowly tailored” and “not be used to achieve general policy goals.”
The memo also limits the length of time for monitoring, giving consent agreements three-year expirations rather than an undetermined amount of time for departments to meet the benchmarks.
Both the Nassau and Suffolk police departments have been under federal monitoring mandating the racial diversification of their ranks through consent decrees since the 1980s in response to allegations of discrimination against black, Hispanic and female police candidates. Suffolk police and the DOJ in 2014 made an agreement in response to complaints from advocates over the department’s treatment of the Latino community.
With the new changes, advocates say, the DOJ is relinquishing its watchdog role.
“The Nassau and Suffolk county police departments have a history of racially discriminatory practices and failures to address misconduct and corruption at the highest levels,” said Kesi Foster, lead organizer for the Brentwood-based immigrant rights advocacy group Make the Road New York. “With the federal government now asleep at the wheel, it’s more critical than ever for state and local government to hold police departments accountable and ensure the protections the Trump administration won’t provide.”
Others don’t trust local departments investigating their own.
“Where sunshine is not being applied, there’s a lot that goes on that we can’t see — that’s the reason for federal intervention in these cases, to hold these local governments accountable,” said Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
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