A national group led by police chiefs and prosecutors on Friday called on President Donald Trump to adopt policies the organization says can reduce both crime and incarceration and also save taxpayer dollars.
In what it described as an “agenda,” Law Enforcement Leaders To Reduce Crime & Incarceration urged five major steps, several of them based on the principle that “today’s crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety.
The group, formed in 2015 , is now led by former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and former Dallas Police Chief David Brown. It also includes sheriffs, federal and state prosecutors and state attorneys general.
The proposal was released today in part as a response to President Donald Trump’s three executive orders related to crime that were made public yesterday at the swearing-in of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
As outlined by the law enforcement group, the main policies Trump and Sessions should adopt are these:
- Change federal aid to state and local government, which amounts to more than $5.5 billion annually, to focus on violent and serious crime and not on “antiquated law enforcement tools such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses.”
- Reduce “unnecessary incarceration,” in part by favoring congressional approval of a federal sentencing reform bill that did not make it to the Senate floor last year after approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sessions opposed it there.
- Increase federal aid for mental health and drug treatment. The group noted the 52,000 deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses in 2015, and said that 57 percent of adults with a mental illness do not receive adequate treatment. Many people with one or both categories of problems end up in the criminal justice system.
- Improve community policing. “Without cooperation between law enforcement and the community, enhancing pubic safety is next to impossible,” the group said, noting that many cities have been cutting back on community policing because of funding shortages.
- Working harder to reduce recidivism. About half of the 600,000 inmates released every year are back behind bars within three years, the group said. The federal Bureau of Prisons has been improving its inmate rehabilitation programs, but prisons are consuming about one-fourth of the Justice Department budget. Trump and Sessions should put a high priority of placing high-risk offenders into “transitional services” before release, the group recommended, not “direct release into society.”
It is not clear which recommendations of the group the Trump administration will adopt, if any.
The new President has made clear that he wants to reduce crime, support the policing profession and to cut wasteful federal spending. He also has backed better mental health and drug treatment.
However, Trump has not expressed detailed views on prison reform. Attorney General Sessions opposed last year’s proposed federal sentencing changes on the ground that they might lead to the release of too many dangerous people.
It is not yet clear how Trump will seek to apply his general statements to specific federal programs. For example, police groups generally support the existing Justice Department Office of Community Policing Services (COPS), but conservatives have long sought to curtail or eliminate the agency’s support for local police hiring.
The group that issued today’s report was organized by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which advocates against mass incarceration.
Besides Serpas and Brown, other leaders include former Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley; former U.S. Attorney Walter Holton of North Carolina; former U.S. Treasury Department enforcement chief James E. Johnson; Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole; and Manhattan, N.Y., District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
The group’s agenda is not necessarily in line with that of other major law enforcement groups.
The Fraternal Order of Police, a large police union which endorsed Trump’s election, has a long agenda of labor and policing issues but has not taken a stand on many of the issues covered in today’s report.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), which backed Sessions’ nomination, has a much broader policy agenda than the one proposed today, although it also supports the federal COPS program and better rehabilitation programs for inmates.
The IACP backs the creation of a national commission on criminal justice, which would have a more expansive mandate than a Justice Department task force on violent crime that Trump announced yesterday.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.