Attorney General Jeff Sessions is attempting to shake up policing in the country by limiting federal oversight of police departments with a history of civil rights violations, while calling for an escalation of the war on drugs. Last week, Sessions ordered a wide-ranging review of the federal consent decrees with local law enforcement agencies that have been accused of brutality and violating civil rights laws. The review signals the Justice Department intends to shift away from monitoring and forcing changes within police departments, such as the police department of Ferguson, Missouri, where systematic racial discrimination by the police and the police killing of unarmed 18-year-old African American Michael Brown sparked an uprising in 2014. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also called for what many see as a new war on drugs during a speech in Richmond, Virginia. For more, we speak with Norm Stamper, the former chief of the Seattle Police Department and the author of the book “To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Norm Stamper—you were the head of the Seattle Police Department. Seattle is under a consent decree, which has had enormous progress for the city’s policing. Could you talk about that?
NORM STAMPER: Tremendous progress. As a matter of fact, last week, the federally appointed monitor of the consent decree in Seattle wrote, essentially, a love letter to the city, city civic officials, the police chief, and he named the rank and file, as well, and said, “This is a department that is undergoing major transformation.” Five years ago, that was not the case. Five years ago, the allegations of excessive force and bias policing were well established.
So, what’s happened? There’s been a 60 percent reduction in use of force by Seattle police officers. There has been a dramatic decrease in the use of firearms, Tasers and batons. And police officers themselves, through the president of the Police Officers’ Guild, are saying, “The train has left the station. We’re grateful that we’re at this stage of our progress, rather than”—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the crime rate has continued to go down, right?
NORM STAMPER: The crime rate has continued to go down. Officer injuries are either flat or dropping. So there’s been no so-called Ferguson effect or de-policing.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go back to Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking to police and federal officials last month in Richmond, Virginia.
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Many of you who are law enforcement leaders have told us that in this age of viral videos and targeted killings of police, something has changed in policing: Some law enforcement personnel are more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the proactive, up-close police work that builds trust and prevents violent crimes and saves lives of innocent people. In some cities, arrests have fallen as murder rates have surged.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, your response?
NORM STAMPER: My response to that is, he’s clearly in lockstep with his boss, the president. He is clearly an apologist for the worst kind of policing in this country. He is pandering to police unions. He is saying things that he thinks they want to hear, and is—
AMY GOODMAN: But Sherrilyn is even saying that the police union is saying that they want to continue these.
NORM STAMPER: That’s happened in Baltimore. It’s happened in Seattle. He needs to visit those two cities and pay attention. Instead of mouthing slogans, he needs to sit down and listen to the officers themselves.