Last month, a video was released of two police officers in Elkhart, Indiana, repeatedly punching a handcuffed man in the face. The episode was just the latest in a long-troubled police department where nearly all of its supervisors have disciplinary records.
This is the sort of problem that Congress sought to address in 1994 when it authorized the Department of Justice to overhaul troubled local police agencies under court-monitored consent decrees. These agreements lay out a reform plan negotiated by federal law enforcement officials and the local government.
After seeing the videotaped beating, Elkhart’s mayor, Tim Neese, asked the Indiana State Police for a “very thorough and far-reaching” investigation of his police department. But the state police turned him down, so he asked the Department of Justice for help. His timing could hardly have been worse. Less than three weeks earlier, Jeff Sessions, who was then the attorney general, had sharply limited the Department of Justice’s ability to use court-ordered agreements to address abuses by local police departments. It was one of his last actions before he stepped down….