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Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Tuesday to "pull back" on federal civil rights probes of police departments, sending the strongest signal yet that the U.S. Justice Department may not pursue a consent decree to lock in reforms with the beleaguered...

Sessions sends strongest signal yet feds may not pursue court oversight of Chicago Police Department

Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Tuesday to "pull back" on federal civil rights probes of police departments, sending the strongest signal yet that the U.S. Justice Department may not pursue a consent decree to lock in reforms with the beleaguered...

Sessions sends strongest signal yet feds may not pursue court oversight of Chicago Police Department

Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Tuesday to "pull back" on federal civil rights probes of police departments, sending the strongest signal yet that the U.S. Justice Department may not pursue a consent decree to lock in reforms with the beleaguered Chicago Police Department.

In his first major speech since being appointed by President Donald Trump, the attorney general expressed skepticism about the Obama administration's expansive investigations into police departments for alleged civil rights violations and other abuses in several cities.

Police also are pulling back because they worry about getting in trouble if they make a mistake, Sessions said.

"We need to help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness, and I'm afraid we have done some of that," Sessions told a gathering of state attorneys general. "So we're going to pull back on this."

Sessions also promised an aggressive crackdown on a surge in homicides and violent crime that he warned could be an indicator of a long-term rise in street violence.

Although the nation's murder and violent crime rates are near historic lows, Sessions cited statistics that show violent crime rose by 3 percent and murders rose by nearly 11 percent in 2015 over the previous year.

He acknowledged crime has dropped substantially since the late 1980s and the early 1990s but said he worries the recent rise in reported criminal violence in major cities is not "a blip."

"I'm afraid it represents the beginning of a trend," he said, blaming increased violence on low police morale, increasing drug use and fear of police in some communities.

Emanuel makes first rounds with Trump White House Bill Ruthhart

Mayor Rahm Emanuel held his first round of Washington meetings Monday with senior members of President Donald Trump's administration, a trip his office described as laying the foundation for developing relationships with the Republican White House.

Emanuel met with new Attorney General Jeff Sessions...

Mayor Rahm Emanuel held his first round of Washington meetings Monday with senior members of President Donald Trump's administration, a trip his office described as laying the foundation for developing relationships with the Republican White House.

Emanuel met with new Attorney General Jeff Sessions...

(Bill Ruthhart)

It was Sessions' second public remarks on crime this week.

On Monday, Sessions declined to commit to a federal consent decree with Chicago that could give Police Department reforms here more teeth. On Tuesday, before Sessions' comments, Mayor Rahm Emanuel continued to vow to press ahead with the changes.

Sessions spoke to reporters Monday in Washington, D.C., and said he had "not made a decision" on whether he would order the Justice Department to continue negotiating a court-enforced federal consent decree. Sessions did say something needs to be done to make Chicago police more proactive.

"I'm really worried about Chicago with the surge in murders," Sessions said Monday. "One of the metrics that has been reported in Chicago shows a dramatic reduction in stops and arrests in Chicago by the Police Department. So they have the same number of officers, but the number of people that are getting arrested for presumably smaller crimes — the broken windows concept that New York believes in so strongly — that has to be a factor in the increase of violence in the city.

DOJ investigations: 20 departments under enforcement agreements Kyle Bentle The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Friday the results of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department, finding that the department engaged in unlawful policing that violated the U.S. Constitution. The Justice Department's initial report lays the groundwork for a pending consent... The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Friday the results of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department, finding that the department engaged in unlawful policing that violated the U.S. Constitution. The Justice Department's initial report lays the groundwork for a pending consent... (Kyle Bentle)

"One of the things that has to be done in any settlement is to make sure we advance good policing strategies and not undermine them," he added.

Asked Tuesday about Sessions' Monday comments, Emanuel repeated what he's said since the January completion of the federal investigation into Police Department training and tactics, saying changes will continue with or without a consent decree. "When the Justice Department report came, there were a lot of questions, and I've been very clear we're going to continue to do what's in our self-interest as it relates to training, technology, transparency and leadership, so our police officers have the support, the confidence to do their job.

"Reform and proactive policing go hand in hand with each other," added Emanuel, who answered questions at an event to talk about a new city fleet headquarters in Englewood. The mayor declined to respond directly when asked whether he expects a consent decree to be completed.

Emanuel's office did not immediately respond later Tuesday to Sessions' Tuesday remarks. Earlier this month, Emanuel met with Sessions in Washington. Since then, Emanuel and members of his administration have not answered directly when asked whether they expect a consent decree governing the Police Department to be negotiated.

Sessions' comments were not shocking. In the past, he has criticized consent decrees governing police departments, and Trump has supported aggressive law enforcement as a way to fight crime in Chicago and elsewhere.

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions told senators he was concerned that suing police departments could hurt morale and hamper their effectiveness.

"It's a difficult thing for a city to be sued by the Department of Justice and to be told that your police department is systemically failing to serve the people of the state or the city," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that "we need to be careful and respectful of (police) departments."

Emanuel agreed to enter talks toward a court-enforced agreement with the Justice Department on a number of reforms while President Barack Obama was still in office.

In January, the Justice Department issued a report following a 13-month investigation of the Chicago Police Department that found the city's force suffered from racial bias, used force excessively, was poorly trained and was poorly overseen.

The report found the problems start at the training academy, where Chicago police recruits are shown a decades-old video teaching them outdated tactics on when and how to use deadly force. On the street, many officers are told to keep a "code of silence" and back up the stories of officers who fire at unarmed fleeing men, or risk their own careers. From street cops on up, they're ill-trained, understaffed, quick to shoot, pressed to lie, slow to investigate and shielded by departmental protections and city policies that haven't changed for decades.

The landmark federal investigation was sparked by the fallout over the court-ordered November 2015 release of dashboard camera video showing white Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teen Laquan McDonald.

Chicago has been beset by a surge in gun violence. Last year, the city saw more than 760 slayings and 4,300 people shot, huge increases over 487 homicides and about 3,000 shooting victims in 2015.

That uptick has continued this year. Through Wednesday, the Police Department counted 91 homicides, just two fewer than the year-earlier period. But Tribune data — which include expressway killings and fatal shootings by police as well as those ruled justified by police — put homicides at 99, up from 97.

Wilber reported from the Tribune's Washington bureau.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Del.Wilber@latimes.com

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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