Briefing Book

Why Police Still Need Monitoring

And what Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t get about the great achievements of the DOJ he is inheriting.

By Roy L. Austin, Jr.

Tagged Briefing BookCrimecriminal justiceDepartment of Justicepolice

Based on the speech he gave today to the National Association of Attorneys General, Attorney General Jeff Sessions knows very little about the Department of Justice that he has inherited and that also has worked tirelessly to address violent crime over the last eight years.

While citing a Wall Street Journal article about homicides rising in four cities, AG Sessions failed to mention that the same WSJ article also notes that the two biggest cities in the country, New York and Los Angeles, “are experiencing long-term drops in murders.”

And, while claiming that we should not be “spending scarce federal resources to sue [local police] in court,” AG Sessions failed to note a crucial point that both Los Angeles and New York share: While LA had a Consent Decree, NYPD has a federal monitor, which the DOJ weighed in on. In New York City, it is clear that by reducing unnecessary and unconstitutional stops and frisks by hundreds of thousands, public safety is enhanced. The arrangements that AG Sessions so maligns exist to address unconstitutional law enforcement conduct that discriminates, is unfair, is inefficient, and makes it more difficult for local law enforcement to work with the community to protect public safety. Maybe AG Sessions should talk to former Los Angeles and New York City Police Chief William Bratton who worked with the LAPD Consent Decree to make the city safer, with greater greater public satisfaction: reduced use of force, no-evidence of de-policing, better quality arrests, and a reduction in serious crime.

It is noteworthy that AG Sessions has not even read the findings from the Civil Rights Division on the Chicago Police Department—which showed that, for Chicago to address violent crime, it must rebuild trust between the police department and the people in the communities impacted most by gun violence—but he has no problem publicly criticizing instances of misconduct as anecdotal.

As for AG Sessions’s statement that officers are “reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing,” that is also most definitely anecdotal. As the Executive Director of the National Fraternal Order of Police previously said about FBI Director James Comey when he raised this same point: “He’s basically saying that police officers are afraid to do their jobs with absolutely no proof.

It is, therefore, convenient that AG Sessions can, in the same speech, state that “if this was a one-year spike [with respect to violent crime], we might not worry too much,” but then misleadingly cite a 10 percent one-year increase in the number of officers killed in the line of duty. What AG Sessions failed to mention is that about 17 percent fewer law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the eight years of the Obama Administration than during the previous eight years under Bush. Obama’s respect for police was not unintentional either. As the former President said himself, “Each fallen police officer is one too many.”

Finally, AG Sessions went on to discuss the creation of a Task Force to address violent crime. Interestingly, the only members of this Task Force that he mentions are a few DOJ components. However, when I was myself working in the DOJ, this was not called a Task Force; it was simply called a meeting. Notably, he also failed to mention many of the crucial DOJ components who already work on these issues every day, such as members of the Civil Rights Division, the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office of Access to Justice, and the Community Relations Service. And we mustn’t forget that a Task Force has already done its work on this; that would be President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was made up of law enforcement, as well as rank and file, academic, civil rights, and youth leaders. The recommendations from Obama’s Task Force are now being implemented by hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country. So, perhaps, instead of citing anecdotes and re-creating the wheel, AG Sessions should start, instead, with the great work already in progress.

Read more about Briefing BookCrimecriminal justiceDepartment of Justicepolice

Roy L. Austin, Jr. is Partner at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, LLP. He is a former Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice & Opportunity and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division.

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