THE ART OF FIGHTING CRIME & REDUCING UNNECESSARY ARRESTS
On February 13, a group of nearly 200 police chiefs and prosecutors, who come from all 50 states, sent the president a five-part agenda outlining specific steps that the group believes the Trump administration should use to promote public safety while also reducing incarceration.
The list of suggestions came on the heels of President Trump’s executive order of last Thursday, which used hard charging language to create a task force on crime reduction, that was to focus “on illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime.”
The agenda from the nationwide group was authored by Ronald Serpas, who is the former New Orleans police Superintendent and the former Chief of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, and David Brown, who was most recently the chief of police in Dallas.
LAPD’s Chief Charlie Beck is a member of the group too, so is former NYPD Commissioner (and former Chief of the LAPD) Bill Bratton. San Francisco DA, George Gascon (who has headed up several police departments) is on board, as is Bernie Kerik from New York City, and around 190 more present and former law enforcement officials. California alone has 17 members, but the red states are fully present and accounted for. Google any state name and you’ll see that all regions are healthily represented.
“To better combat crime, we must improve our nation’s crime policies,” wrote Ron Serpas in the introduction to the document. “We urge president Trump and attorney General Jeff Sessions to join and take leadership roles in the ongoing cross-partisan efforts to reform our justice system. This report offers five policies the new administration should support to forge a path to advance our common goal of a safer nation.”
THE FIVE POINTS
The five principals that Serpas, Brown and company recommend are as follows:
1. Prioritize fighting violent crime.
The law enforcement leaders urged President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to target federal resources toward preventing violent crime specifically, which they said poses the biggest threat, “instead of over-resourcing efforts to fight lower-level drug crimes and non-violent crimes.”
The president’s executive order creating his “Task Force on Crime Reduction and public Safety” at the Justice Department, and a second executive order to curb gang and drug activity, wrote Brown and Serpas, “do not target their language and efforts on fighting violent crime — the most serious threat to our public safety.” Instead, Trumps two executive orders encourage law enforcement to focus on crime more generally. “Federal resources are imperative to combat crime across the country,” the authors wrote, “but failing to direct these resources toward our most immediate and dangerous threats risks wasting taxpayer dollars.”
2. Support Reducing Unnecessary Incarceration and Federal Sentencing Reform.
With its second point the report points out that Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley and House Speaker Paul Ryan plan to reintroduce the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which had impressive bi-partisan support but was previously prevented from even getting close to passage by law and order conservatives. “Law enforcement strongly supports this bill,” the cop authors wrote, “which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crime and save $722 million over the next 10 years.”
To further their goals, the group also sent a letter to Congress last week, explaining their support for the SRCA citing additional support from such law enforcement groups as the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, National District Attorneys Association, and International Chiefs of Police, which represent 58,000 law enforcement officials.
The authors urge “congress to pass and the President to sign the measure this year as a way of reducing recidivism and crime.”
The law enforcement group also calls out Sessions, who was one of those in the Senate who previously opposed the SRCA. But “he may have a different perspective” as the head of the Justice Department,” they write diplomatically.
3. Increase mental health and drug treatment.
With point number three, the agenda states plainly that greater support for mental health and drug treatment programs will address “the key underlying causes of crime,” thereby preventing future crime and removing an undue burden on police.
“The mental health system is chronically under-resourced and unable to meet the demand for treatment and services,” the authors write. “Last year, 57 percent of adults with a mental illness did not receive adequate treatment.” Many of these individuals, they point out, end up in the criminal justice system, turning jails and prisons into substitute health facilities.”
4.Bolster community policing.
On this point, the authors are particularly direct.
“Tension between communities and police has risen in the last three years,” they write. But the result, they say, “has been something of a false debate,” one in which “civilians and politicians are expected to choose between supporting law enforcement or their neighbors.” But police and communities must work together. “We are not on opposite sides of the fence.” There must be penalties for misconduct, they acknowledge, “whether that misconduct is committed by the police or the community.” A mistrustful community puts police officers at risk, the authors state. “Without cooperation between law enforcement and the community, enhancing public safety is next to impossible.”
Community policing, they write, properly applied, can diminish this damaging tension while also reducing crime.
There has been talk about reducing some of the federal grant money for community policing. The group makes clear that more support from the feds is needed, not less.
5. Expand recidivism reduction programs in prison
The 5-point report notes that “recent reports” suggest President Trump is considering “significant cuts to the federal budget”, which could slashing recidivism programing in the federal prison system. “While this would save immediate costs,” the authors write, eliminating these programs would ultimately harm public safety.
Instead of cuts, they urge the president and the Justice Department to “support the existence and expansion of in-prison educational and treatment programs as a means to reduce recidivism, crime, and taxpayer dollars spent on repeat incarceration.”
Second, they recommend the Bureau of Prison “expand its use of residential reentry centers” and the like for federal prisoners nearing release.”
HARD ON CRIME V. SMART ON CRIME?
Newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has said that the government has grown “soft on crime.” President Trump has repeatedly delivered a similar message.
Many in policing agree.
But this group is made of an impressive array of high profile law enforcement pros whose suggestions are backed by research, breadth of experience, and stats. It will be important to see how the President Trump and his new Attorney General respond.