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AG Sessions Says DOJ to ‘Pull Back’ on Police Department Civil Rights Suits

Donald Trump's attorney general said Tuesday the Justice Department will limit its use of a tactic employed aggressively under President Obama — suing police departments for violating the civil rights of minorities.

"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," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"So we're going to try to pull back on this," he told a meeting of the nation's state attorneys general in Washington.

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Sessions said such a move would not be "wrong or insensitive to civil rights or human rights." Instead, he said people in poor and minority communities must feel free from the threat of violent crime, which will require more effective policing with help from the federal government.

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While crime rates are half of what they were a few decades ago, recent increases in violent crimes do not appear to be "an aberration, a one-time blip. I'm afraid it represents the beginning of a trend."

Sessions said he will encourage federal prosecutors to bring charges when crimes are committed using guns. Referring local drug violations that involve the use of a firearm, for example, to federal court can result is often a stiffer sentence than would be imposed by state courts.

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"We need to return to the ideas that got us here, the ideas that reduce crime and stay on it. Maybe we got a bit overconfident when we've seen the crime rate decline so steadily for so long," he said.

Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department opened 25 investigations into police departments and sheriff's offices and was enforcing 19 agreements at the end of 2016, resolving civil rights lawsuits filed against police departments in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, New Orleans, Cleveland and 15 other cities.

On Monday, Sessions said he is reviewing the Justice Department's current policy toward enforcing federal law that prohibits possession of marijuana, but has made no decision about whether to get tougher.

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His opposition to legalization is well known, and he emphasized it during an informal gathering of reporters . "I don't think America will be a better place when more people, especially young people, smoke pot."

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States, he said, can pass their own laws on possession as they choose, "but it remains a violation of federal law."

The current policy, spelled out in a 2013 memo from former deputy attorney general James Cole, said federal prosecutions would focus on distribution to minors, involvement of gangs or organized crime, sales beyond a state border, and growing marijuana plants on federal land.