Reform DAs Put ‘Everyone in Danger’ by Promoting Criminality, Claims Barr

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William Barr

William Barr. Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Attorney General William Barr took his sharp-edged campaign against the reform movement among prosecutors to a meeting of America’s sheriffs  with another withering blast at so-called “rogue” district attorneys who he said “undermine — rather than advance — our ability to carry out effective law enforcement.”

In remarks prepared for release to the Major County Sheriffs of America in Washington, D.C.,  Barr cited “the increasing number of district attorneys who have fashioned for themselves a new role of judge-legislator-prosecutor.”

Charging  that “these self-styled ‘social justice’ reformers are refusing to enforce entire categories of law, including the law against resisting police officers, he claimed the DAs “are putting everyone in danger.”

Just six months ago, Barr unleashed a similar broadside at the Fraternal Order of Police national biennial conference in New Orleans. Noting the emergence of reform prosecutors in dozens of elections across the U.S., he insisted the reform movement was “demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety.”

“District attorneys that style themselves as ‘social justice’ reformers…spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law.”

Barr claimed the “anti-law enforcement DAs … ambush an incumbent DA in the primary with misleading campaigns and large infusions of money from outside groups.”

But the AG’s attacks have been sharply criticized by legal experts and criminologists as misleading and based on false premises.

Writing in USA Today, Wake Forest law professor Ronald Wright said Barr’s comments in New Orleans showed that he doesn’t understand the modern prosecutor’s job.

Studies show that tough-on-crime policies had, at best, a modest effect on the decline in crime rates, and states with lower incarceration rates achieved as much public safety as states with higher rates, according to Wright.

He observed that the new wave of reform district attorneys are doing exactly what the voters elected them to do: fix a broken and inequitable system.

In his speech to the sheriffs, however, Barr warned that the policies of some urban prosecutors are taking their cities “back toward a more dangerous past.”

While crime overall in the U.S. is declining, cities with “progressive” prosecutors, including San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago, and Baltimore, “have all suffered historic levels of homicide and other violent crime,” Barr said.

Philadelphia’s murder rate during the term of District Attorney Larry Krasner, one of the leading members of the reform movement, “is at its highest point in over a decade,” he added.

The attorney general said that even if early, petty crimes by an offender are treated leniently, “we still need them charged and recorded so we know who we are dealing with as time goes by.  Our whole system is undermined by the practice of ignoring whole categories of criminal offenses.”

Barr accused the new district attorneys of  promoting “catch-and-release and revolving-door policies” that “actually lead to greater criminality” by “allowing young lawbreakers entirely off the hook the first time — or the second time or even the third time … potentially placing them on a conveyor to further and heightened criminality.”

In August, dozens of current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials signed a letter calling Barr’s attacks on progressive district attorneys “deeply concerning.”

“Our nation is on the road to meaningful and lasting criminal justice reform — as reflected in the bipartisan passage of the First Step Act and other changes sweeping the country,” said the letter.

“It is not the time for a return to fear-driven narratives that find no foundation in fact.”

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