Trump Policing Panel Calls for Efforts to ‘Minimize’ Unjustified Use of Force

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States should require policing agencies to have outside entities investigate use-of-force episodes that cause death or serious injuries, says President Donald Trump’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.

“The greatest source of distrust and disrespect for police today results from the unlawful use of force against citizens in the course of enforcing the law,” the panel said in a lengthy draft report posted on the Justice Department’s website.

“Accordingly, the Commission recommends specific protocols and policies to minimize unjustified uses of force, which should function to restore community trust in law enforcement and their capacity to ably and safely do their job.”

Alluding to so-called progressive local prosecutors, the panel says that such officials “who adopt non-enforcement policies should publish such policies and report data on declined cases.”

The commission charged that some elected prosecutors “view the very laws they enforce as unjust and illegitimate, and therefore seek to undermine that system by unilaterally deciding not to enforce certain laws.”

The commission highlighted 10 recommendations.

Since most of the proposals are addressed to state and local authorities or to Congress, the report will have limited impact—especially because it does not respond directly to the the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, and the widespread demonstrations against excessive police use of force that took place while the commission was at work.

In an allusion to some protesters’ demands to “defund the police,” the panel’s report said it was asked to do a “a comprehensive study of law enforcement as it exists today: and that “a fundamental reformation of the institution of law enforcement as commonly and currently understood is therefore beyond the scope of this report.”

Speaking in September in Kenosha, Wi., the site of demonstrations after the police shooting of a Black man, presidential candidate Joe Biden vowed to create his own commission on policing, which he presumably will do now that he is president-elect.

When asked by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) about the Trump commission before it finished its report, Biden said, “I will consider recommendations from prior administrations and from the police on their merits.”

Biden also has rejected demands to “de-fund” police departments.

The Trump administration created the panel at the request of the IACP, the Fraternal Order of Police and other law enforcement groups after Congress failed to create a commission to examine the nation’s criminal justice system a half-century after President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed such a panel.

President Donald Trump announced the study at the 2019 annual IACP conference, and assigned Attorney General William Barr to oversee it. It was chaired by director Phil Keith of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, who is a former police chief of Knoxville, Tn.

The vice-chair was Katharine Sullivan, a former Colorado judge who now heads DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs.

There were 16 commissioners, heavily weighted to law enforcement, including representatives of four federal law enforcement agencies, a U.S. Attorney, the Florida Attorney General, the head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, three sheriffs, two police chiefs, one county prosecutor, a state law enforcement official, and two police officers.

No current judges, no one from the vast corrections field, and no one from civil rights organizations or other interest groups was represented.

DOJ likened its commission to the LBJ commission that began 55 years ago, but the Trump-Barr version focused on policing and did not take a comprehensive look at the justice system.

For example it published no chapters devoted to courts or prisons but labeled a short chapter on prisoner re-entry as a “complement…to effective law enforcement.”

The administration intended to issue the report before the presidential election, but a federal judge ruled in a lawsuit by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund that the appointment and operation of the panel violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

In order to publish the report, U.S. District Judge John Bates of Washington, D.C., required it to include a notice at the beginning of the volume that the panel “did not comply with FACA’s requirements to ensure the Commission’s membership is fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented, file a charter, select a designated federal officer, or provide timely notice of meetings in the Federal Register.”

Turning to the impact of COVID-19, the commission noted that “the economic fallout” of the pandemic would place strains o n federal, state and local funding for criminal justice.

“The potential for reductions in budgets will likely limit training, equipment and technology procurement, overtime, and even reductions in force through attrition and furloughs in some jurisdictions,” the panel warned.

Among other major recommendations of the Trump commission:

      • State and local governments should implement or enhance comprehensive, one-stop-shop systems of care to screen, assess, and treat people with mental illness and
        substance use disorders, including criminal defendants.
      • Any jurisdiction that eliminates cash bail should first establish a comprehensive pre-trial release program that addresses public and victim safety and flight risk.
      • Congress should provide more funding to increase the number of National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) sites, and more grants for the Local Law
        Enforcement Crime Gun Intelligence Centers Integration Initiative.
      • Congress should require that entities that manage encrypted data allow court-ordered access by law enforcement.
      • DOJ should expand real time crime centers (RTCCs) and development of technology tools that provide the centers the ability to identify and disseminate crime intelligence, analyze crime patterns, and develop strategies for reducing crime.
      • Congress should fund a national law enforcement crisis hotline.
      • The Department of Education should fund an undergraduate law enforcement scholarship program (similar to ROTC scholarships), as well as loan forgiveness, for people who commit to law enforcement careers.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report,

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