Sunday, December 10, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Sessions' backward step on policing and race

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama helped local law enforcement and the communities they serve with its careful monitoring of troubled police agencies. But now the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has signaled that the Trump administration would back off from playing that important role — one that's pivotal for repairing relations between police officers and aggrieved minority residents in cities across America. This is a backward step that endangers both policing and race relations.

Sessions made the remarks at a recent appearance in Washington before the nation's state attorneys general, the chief law enforcement officers in states across the country. In prepared remarks, he maintained that law enforcement "as a whole" had been "unfairly maligned and blamed" in recent years for the unacceptable acts "of a few bad actors." And he claimed a siege mentality had taken root among officers, making them cautious and isolated, keeping them from doing "the hard but necessary work of up-close policing." He drew a connection between this sense of abandonment and a spike in violent crime.

As a result, Sessions said, the administration intended to "pull back" from investigating those agencies charged with abuse. "Rather than dictating to local police how to do their jobs," he said, "we should use our money, research and expertise to help them." And that could require an end to spending "scarce federal resources to sue them in court."

The deadly attacks on police in Dallas and elsewhere in recent years should be condemned as strongly as the deaths and abuse of black residents at the hands of police. By insinuating the public must choose sides, Sessions has inflamed an emotional issue and made a scapegoat of something that works — federal probes that help defuse local racial tensions, clean up police departments and give officers higher standing in their communities.

No one can dispute that it took the Justice Department to detail the breathtaking scope of abuse and excessive force that became systemic within the Chicago Police Department. Residents there — as in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and other cities — had nowhere else to turn. And the problem is not, as Sessions airily dismissed it, a matter of "a few bad actors." Police departments that lack morale, organization and discipline are powder kegs that are unable to build trust, clean the ranks and keep peace in their communities.

The Justice Department has investigated more than two dozen law enforcement agencies in recent years, demonstrating that allegations of abuse are hardly contrived or isolated. But even beyond those jurisdictions, the department has played a helpful and unifying role in cities such as Tampa, where the mayor invited a lower-level review after a Tampa Bay Times' report that found the city had stopped black bicyclists at a far higher rate than whites. After the Justice Department review, Tampa largely eliminated the practice, which amounted to harassment in the very black neighborhoods where authorities needed greater public cooperation.

These Justice investigations have cleaned up cities that would not have done so on their own, and they have improved the level of trust between street cops and residents in some of America's toughest places. Sessions also sent the wrong message by giving new voice to the theory that police officers are hunkering down instead of doing their jobs. There is work to do in fostering better confidence in the police in minority neighborhoods, and it's true that neighborhoods that don't cooperate only victimize themselves. But the problem is abusive police tactics or officers — not the fair criticism of either. The Justice Department has an important oversight role.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trump’s risky move

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough County’s Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasn’t enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, it’s looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the city’s dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17