Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he didn’t want to make promises he couldn’t keep to police chiefs at a time of proposed cuts to the Justice Department budget. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson sought more federal prosecutions of gun crimes.
Proposed presidential budget cut disappoints officials in places like Miami-Dade County, which became the first jurisdiction to shed its “sanctuary city” status by complying with Trump’s immigration authorities.
Cleveland police have been under court oversight since 2015 after the U.S. Justice Department found patterns of excessive force and civil rights violations. A monitoring team is preparing policy manuals for two agencies that deal with allegations of police misconduct, but that process has taken longer than expected.
The Trump administration could radically reshape the U.S. Justice Department, where civil rights have been a focus under the Obama administration and the country’s first two black attorneys general. The department has investigated about two dozen police agencies for civil rights violations, reaching consent decrees with many of them.
Vanita Gupta of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sees a “very clear link” between the criminalization of poverty and the growing distrust of police and the government. She says police targeting of the poor entraps African-Americans “in perpetual cycles of poverty, debt and incarceration.”
The initiative would help fill a troubling data void: Exactly how many people die during interactions with police? The Department of Justice count apparently would include not only shootings but such modes of death as drug overdoses and medical conditions.
The probe was launched after the death in April 2015 of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, from spinal injuries suffered in police custody. The feds concluded that black residents were targeted by police even though they were more likely to find illegal guns, illicit drugs and other contraband on white residents.
Federal funding for state juvenile justice programs, already waning in recent years, could take another big hit under a proposal this week from the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department. On Wednesday, the panel proposed to slash federal spending from $266 million to $196 million annually for the year starting October 1. The subcommittee wants to zero out a major crime prevention funding program, as well as one called the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants, which support state efforts to establish “graduated sanctions” for juvenile delinquents. Those grants were advocated by congressional Republicans in the 1990s. The spending committee is currently headed by a Republican, Frank Wolf of Virginia.
Federal anti-crime aid is surviving calls for spending cuts in Washington, at least in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014. The plan issued last week included a surprisingly large number of increases in a variety of Justice Department programs. The administration seems to be betting on the notion that a cautious Congress will go for crime-fighting ideas that are backed by scientific evidence. Previous Obama budgets endorsed evidence-based programs, but this is the first time that the Justice Department specifically has tied funding to the idea. For example, the budget includes a new $40 million annual program for states and localities “to implement proven public safety strategies.” It also includes $25 million for what the budget calls projects of “evidence-based, data-driven justice system realignment” that replaces costly programs with less costly alternatives.
Bernard Melekian was police chief of Pasadena, CA when he was chosen by President Barack Obama in 2009 to become director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS). COPS was created during the administration of President Bill Clinton to oversee the hiring of 100,000 community policing officers around the U.S. under the 1994 federal anticrime law. Before he left office last week to return to his home in California, he spoke to The Crime Report's Washington Bureau Chief, Ted Gest about the model his office developed to encourage police departments to reform their practices, about how strained law enforcement budgets can drive change, and on the need for gun regulation in the aftermath of Newtown. The Crime Report: Your agency probably is best known for providing funds to help law enforcement agencies around the U.S. hire 100,000 community police officers in the 1990s. How would you describe the current role of the COPS Office?