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February 13, 2017

Will Prez Trump and AG Sessions listen to law enforcement leaders with diverse views on crime and punishment?

LEL_report_cover-209x300The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times article, headlined "Police Chiefs Say Trump’s Law Enforcement Priorities Are Out of Step," discussing a new report issued by organization Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. The NY Times piece provides this accounting of the report along with some diverse perspectives on how diverse law enforcement leaders look at and toward the Trump Administration:

Not surprisingly, President Trump’s approach to crime, which began to take shape in a series of moves last week, generated swift criticism from liberals and civil rights groups. But it also stirred dissent from another quarter: prominent police chiefs and prosecutors who fear that the new administration is out of step with evidence that public safety depends on building trust, increasing mental health and drug addiction treatment, and using alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.

“We need not use arrest, conviction and prison as the default response for every broken law,” Ronal W. Serpas, a former police chief in Nashville and New Orleans, and David O. Brown, a former Dallas chief, wrote in a report released last week by a leading law enforcement group. “For many nonviolent and first-time offenders, prison is not only unnecessary from a public safety standpoint, it also endangers our communities.”

The organization, the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, is made up of more than 175 police officials and prosecutors, including Charlie Beck, Los Angeles’s police chief; Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Manhattan’s district attorney; and William J. Bratton, the former police chief in New York and Los Angeles. Other leading law enforcement groups have also called for an increase in mental health and drug treatment, a focus on the small number of violent offenders who commit the most crimes, training officers on the appropriate use of force, and retooling practices to reflect a growing body of evidence that common practices, such as jailing people before trial on minor offenses, can actually lead to an increase in crime. The group warned that “failing to direct these resources toward our most immediate and dangerous threats risks wasting taxpayer dollars,” singling out using federal money on “dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses.”

Mr. Trump has shifted the focus from civil rights to law and order, from reducing incarceration to increasing sentences, from goading the police to improve to protecting them from harm. Last week, he swore in a new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has said that the government has grown “soft on crime,” and helped block a bipartisan bill to reduce sentences. Mr. Sessions said that a recent uptick in crime in some major cities is a “dangerous, permanent trend,” a view that is not supported by federal crime data, which shows crime remains near historical lows. The president signed executive orders that repeatedly connected public safety to immigration violations, vowing to fight international crime cartels; to set up a task force to “comprehensively address illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime”; and to focus on preventing violence to peace officers.

Some police chiefs and sheriffs have complained that immigration enforcement is not consistent with their priorities and could undermine hard-earned trust. “I would rather have my officers focused on going after violent criminals and people breaking into homes than going after nannies and cooks,” Chief Art Acevedo of Houston said. Kim Ogg, the new district attorney in Houston, won office promising to make changes like dropping prosecution of low-level drug offenses, reducing the use of money bail and releasing videos of police shootings. Those priorities were much more aligned with the Obama administration than Trump’s, in whose pronouncements Obama-era buzzwords like deincarceration, constitutional policing and de-escalation — reducing the use of force during police encounters — have all but disappeared. Mr. Trump did tell a gathering of police chiefs this week: “As part of our commitment to safe communities, we will also work to address the mental health crisis. Prison should not be a substitute for treatment.”...

Some police chiefs said they are reserving judgment until there is more meat on the bones of the administration’s plans. “Hopefully, they are going to seek our practical advice,” said Edward A. Flynn, Milwaukee’s police chief, who also heads the legislative committee of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “That to us is key. We don’t want any more policy bromides grounded in campaign promises. We want ideas grounded in practical wisdom about how to protect our cities.”

Still, a number of chiefs — and perhaps the vast majority of lower-ranking officers — say they are basking in the glow of Mr. Trump’s positive attention after feeling under siege during the Obama administration. “Law enforcement in general was painted with a very broad brush,” said Michael J. Bouchard, the sheriff of Oakland County, Mich. “The idea was that policing was broke, and I think that was a false dialogue.”

Unions agreed. “I can promise that if we have a president who is speaking about protecting the lives of police officers, that the membership is going to be supportive of him,” said Chuck Canterbury, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “No police officer took an oath that said, ‘I agree to support and defend the Constitution and to get my butt whipped.’” Michael A. Ramos, the president of the National District Attorneys Association and the chief prosecutor in San Bernardino County, Calif., hailed the shift in emphasis, saying the pendulum had swung “way too far” toward being “soft on crime.”

Law enforcement leaders responded more positively to Mr. Trump’s order to ratchet up the fight against organized crime cartels, which operate through intermediaries in even the smallest American cities through the sale of heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs. But Darrel W. Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said the nation also needed to address its appetite for drugs: “We must do everything we can to stop the flow of drugs into our country, but doing so would not solve our substance abuse problem.”

The full 28-page report referenced here is titled "Fighting Crime and Strengthening Criminal Justice: An Agenda for the New Administration," and it is available at this link. An executive summary and press release provides these five bullet points describing the report's suggested priorities:

• Prioritizing fighting violent crime.

• Enact federal sentencing reform.

• Increasing mental health and drug treatment.

• Bolstering community policing.

• Expanding recidivism reduction programs.

February 13, 2017 at 11:06 AM | Permalink


I think, Doug, recent events in Columbus Ohio show the idiocy of being nice to criminals. A young woman is dead because prosecutors dropped the ball on a violent criminal.

"We must do everything we can to stop the flow of drugs into our country, but doing so would not solve our substance abuse problem." Perhaps so, but if drugs aren't available, fewer will be harmed.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 13, 2017 11:24:27 AM

"if drugs aren't available"

They will be available. Perhaps, as conservatives sometimes say regarding the government, it is useful to admit our limitations at some point. The current "war on drugs" can be attacked on various grounds as seen by William Buckley Jr. coming out against. There can be a principled case, e.g., that it is a liberty interest to use drugs especially some of them (such as medical marijuana). And, there is much evidence that the current policy is pragmatically unproductive, including regarding the Mexican situation which is of special concern for the Trump Administration.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 13, 2017 11:35:24 AM

They will always be available, yes, but that doesn't mean that efforts to make them less available aren't worth it.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 13, 2017 12:19:09 PM

"They will always be available, yes, but that doesn't mean that efforts to make them less available aren't worth it."

A statement that is logical but without details too bland to be of much help.

It's a question of using the various alternatives available and the focus on supply generally has been shown to be of limited help as compared to alternatives. Specific efforts there, such as regarding minors or whatever are more defensible.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 13, 2017 12:55:27 PM

Federalist writes, "They will always be available, yes, but that doesn't mean that efforts to make them less available aren't worth it. "

I may live in France and Knit many sweaters, but I say to my cher ami, Federalist, au contraire, "efforts to make [drugs] less available" are NOT worth it. The terrible consequences of the failed war on drugs are too numerous to list.

Posted by: Madam DeFarge | Feb 13, 2017 2:05:22 PM

And which drugs should be a focus, federalist? The drugs most widely used in violation of federal law would appear to be marijuana and prescription opioids. Do you think, federalist, that it is a sound use of federal tax resources to use the federal criminal justice system to cut down on the availability and use of marijuana and prescription opioids?

Perhaps when you reference drugs you hope to make less available, federalist, you are referencing meth and heroin and cocaine. Disconcertingly, the feds have spent a whole lot of monies on these fronts for now more than 40+ years, and there is limited evidence to suggest that using federal tax resources on this front is helping matters.

Indeed, your reference to the horrible recent murder of an OSU student by a convicted rapist released after 6 years returns to a "scarce bed" problem that you yourself often note, federalist. I suspect that the pressures created by Ohio's overcrowded prisons (which the opioid/heroin problem has exacerbated) played some role in a prosecutor being willing to take a relatively lenient plea deal for the murderer and/or prison officials being willing to release him. Money wasted on criminal drug enforcement is money taken away from resources that might and should be used to better deal with violent criminals.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 13, 2017 2:33:38 PM

Why would overcrowding be an issue for a local prosecutor? If I am a local prosecutor, I don't see how it's in my interest to worry about prison overcrowding, unless the judge says I have to, in which case, I don't know why the judge has an interest in worrying about it either (he or she may worry about it, just from a tragedy of the commons standpoint, I don't know why he or she would).

As for the other stuff, I can't swear to be an expert on exactly how things should be enforced---but I can tell you that large-scale importation of heroin needs to be stopped.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 13, 2017 3:16:48 PM

The stupidity of the entire subject and discussion would be a bad joke. The problem is that there is big money involved, and you do not take away big money that easily.

I have one word, for the lawyers. Duterte.

Trump is weak, an empty scam artist. You lawyers should worry about the guy coming after the Trump Presidency, when the public discovers, Trump was not enough. They will voting for the real deal. If alive, I would like an opportunity to draft the constitutional amendment to control the lawyer profession. It is completely out of control in its rent seeking.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 13, 2017 4:14:02 PM


Surprisingly for someone who seems like an intelligent purpose, you fall for a moronic interpretation of the Columbus incident. Of course, with early release, there will be occasional very bad outcomes. But that incident says nothing about the cost/benefit analysis of taking measure to be less mindlessly punitive and put this country more in line with peer nations that have much lower rates of incarceration and do not seem to suffer for it. Anecdotes are not data, and I think you probably are bright enough to understand that. Does the incidence in Columbus mean that we should scrap all efforts at reform, if there is one bad outcome?

You should stop making idiotic arguments. You know better, and are just trying to pander to those that don't.

You are sounding a lot like Bill Otis, the supreme example of a smart man who acts like an idiot and plays the fool when it comes to advocating his viewpoints.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 13, 2017 6:19:45 PM

Mark. For a smart man, you fall for the tactic of personal insult, a reliable sign of defeat in the traverse. Had this Comment Section been a tribunal, the judge would have rebuked you. The sleeping jurors would have perked up, and taken the rebuke as a sign from the judge toward a verdict. You would lose, and you would have committed lawyer malpractice against your client.

You do make the valid point of the Exception Fallacy, a valid point, if an event is exceptional. The problem is that it is not exceptional. It is absolutely foreseeable, and 100% the fault of the criminal coddling lawyer profession. A 3% decarceration in 2015 led to massive jump of 15% in murders n 20 big cities in 2016. 100% the fault of the criminal coddling lawyer profession.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 13, 2017 10:28:35 PM

The criminal in the Columbus murder should have gotten much more time. That's hard to dispute.

As for Doug, the attempts to blame prison overcrowding are weak. Just weak.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 14, 2017 9:30:02 AM

Are you familiar with the case, federalist? Do you know that the rape victim sought the plea deal that resulted in the six-year punishment because she did not want to go through with a trial? Do you know that prosecutors and judges in Franklin county are acutely aware of prison overcrowding issues in Ohio?

The point is not that we cannot all say, with the benefit of hindsight, that more could and should have been done to try to prevent a rapist from ramping up to murder. The point is that we ought to look at all the factors that contributed to this tragedy. And there are many.

Posted by: Doug B | Feb 14, 2017 9:57:32 AM

Doug, there was another victim, a robbery, and that was combined with the plea deal--that should not have happened without serious time. My sense is that the prosecutors could have gotten more time in the pokey for this guy. And whether or not Franklin County prosecutors are "aware" of overcrowding does not answer the question of whether they should, in the context of serious violence, seek serious time. I presume you understand that individual prosecutors are not incented to care that much about state overcrowding.

This guy NEVER should have been out on the streets. Why don't we start by getting that right?

Posted by: federalist | Feb 14, 2017 11:18:29 AM

The lawyer is in denial about the failure of the profession to protect the public in sentencing law and policy.

I propose a useful, effective, and now standard remedy. It should satisfy both sides of this debate. It should help future crime victims from being victimized if followed in its entirety.

Call this murder a catastrophe. It may be more damaging than an air crash if one takes the drop in property values into account.

The modern view of catastrophe is that they result from a clustering of factors in a place and time. There are likely to be 12. One should investigate and list them. Then each should be addressed by changing the system, and not by attacking individuals with blameworthiness. If you attack individuals, they and future catastrophe participants engage in a cover up that makes the catastrophe analysis worthless.

This methodology is over 50 years old. It made air crashes rare. It is just being applied in medicine. Anesthesiologists cut the intra-operative mishap rate 90% by doing so. Infections in people on a ventilator in ICU have similarly been reduced.

The lawyer profession should review the track record, and mandate the recommendations of the analysis, as a matter of statute.

This analysis of Hurricane Katrina contains simple language, basic definitions, and a list of frequent, easily corrected mistakes.


Why not actually get down to some productive work that will likely help future crime victims?

If successful, it may represent an alternative to the safety of massive application of the death penalty or to waiting for CRISPR/cas9 technology to solve our massive criminality problem, at a cost of $trillions a year.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 14, 2017 11:49:49 AM

Federalist, I do not disagree (how could I?) that, with the benefit of hindsight, the killer of the OSU student should have been further incapacitated. But I do not think it advances the conversation all that much to say only he should have gotten more time for prior crimes. Moreover, and more to the point to the start of this thread, I continue to believe and fear that resources spent on criminal justice "solutions" to drug use and abuse often take resources away from dealing more effectively with violent criminals.

In prior settings, federalist, you have often seemed to agree that there can be at times a "zero-sum" dynamic in this respect, especially with respect to prison beds.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 14, 2017 1:20:04 PM

It's not hindsight, Doug. This guy's prior crimes merited significant punishment. I don't know enough about Ohio sentencing practices to know whether this guy got a Franklin County discount.

This case illustrates how dangerous (and evil) predators are, and your reaction to it, unfortunately, shows your lean is to defend lenience.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 14, 2017 1:43:36 PM

I am not "defending" anything here, federalist, but rather trying to encourage sophisticated understanding rather than hindsight-biased simplistic reactions to a horrible crime. Your latest statement that you "don't know enough about Ohio sentencing practices" combined with the prior statement that "prosecutors dropped the ball on a violent criminal" spotlights my concern that under-informed reactions are often a lot easier than thoughtful analysis based on taking time to hear from participants responsible for punishing and monitoring this "predator."

You may think, federalist, that any and all victims justify under-informed reactions rather than taking (wasting?) time gathering information for a more thoughtful analysis. I suspect will never dissuade you from that view. But I sincerely hope that you do not consider efforts to be thoughtful and gather more information in this setting or others to be a "defense" of "lenience." Rather, it is an effort to be responsible.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 14, 2017 2:31:21 PM

Wow. Doug, you sure do rise to the occasion. I don't have enough knowledge about Ohio sentencing practices to know whether this sort of prior would have gotten a scant five years in Coshocton or Auglaize (hence the reference to the possible Franklin County discount)--I do know enough to know that five and a half years for his prior crimes wasn't enough.

No matter how you slice it, Franklin County prosecutors have plenty of explaining to do. There is a dead young woman whose death was almost certainly preventable.

This guy's priors are truly awful, and you're here talking about "thoughtful analysis." What's there to analyze? Lenient prosecution (maybe judge) results in a dangerous predator walking the streets. Don't see how there isn't much more than that.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 14, 2017 3:01:23 PM

Looks like the prosecutors have company with the screw-ups that led to the murder . . . . hmmmm. This case exemplifies why "smart on crime" usually isn't.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 15, 2017 9:00:22 AM

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