Federal police investigations part of Obama legacy
President Barack Obama has vowed to push for criminal justice reform in his final months in office. But analysts say his Justice Department has already made a legacy-defining imprint on policing.
Relying on a sweeping federal law drafted 22 years ago by then-Sen. Joe Biden, the Obama administration has pursued about two dozen civil rights inquiries into local police such as the one focused on the Baltimore Police Department to be released on Wednesday.
“This is the one tool that the Department of Justice has been able to use to advance comprehensive police reform in some of our most troubled communities,” said Kanya A. Bennett of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is the one resource that does not rely on bipartisan agreement to get something accomplished.”
The long-awaited Justice Department report on Baltimore, which comes more than a year after the death of Freddie Gray from spinal injuries suffered in police custody set off riots in the city, concludes that officers routinely violated constitutional rights — an impact that fell disproportionately on black residents. Results: Three officers acquitted, charges dropped against others.
Despite high-profile cases of African-Americans dying in interactions with police in Ferguson, Mo., New York and Chicago — and now deadly attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge — there has been little movement to advance criminal justice legislation in Congress. The issue has become further politicized by a presidential election in which Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are at odds over policing.