from the unless-worse-policing-is-what's-desired... dept
President Trump's three new law-and-order Executive Orders are designed to combat a largely-nonexistent crime wave and increase protections for one of the most-heavily protected groups in America: law enforcement officers. The orders also mixed crime prevention and national security into a single bowl, making criminal activity inseparable from threats to the nation -- especially if foreigners are involved. In addition to his travel ban and his Two Minutes Hate reporting system, Trump also singled out illegal immigrants in these "law and order" orders, implying that they were to blame for much of the perceived crime problem.
That's in addition to some off-the-cuff remarks Trump made during a meeting with several sheriffs, where he suggested there was no need to reform asset forfeiture and joked that those pushing reform efforts should have their careers ruined by the nation's top (proxy) cop: Donald Trump.
The president may unequivocally have law enforcement's back for the next four years (at minimum), but the nation's top cops don't have his. Or, at the very least, they don't agree with Trump's hardline, anti-crime, pro-cop-always stance. In a report [PDF] filled with suggestions for the new president, a coalition of police chiefs, district attorneys (including Manhattan decrypto warrior Cyrus Vance), and other police officials agree that the ideas Trump is pushing so far are only going to make the nation's policing -- and the nation's relationship with police -- worse.
While Trump has been calling for longer sentences, increased law enforcement presence, and projected a zero tolerance approach to everything until crime rates lower (or at least his perception of crime rates -- the stats don't back up his claims), this group says throwing the book at everyone is just going to perpetuate criminal activity.
We urge the Administration and Congress to carefully consider new crime policies, and adopt and support those that fight crime effectively. Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: today’s crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety. We need not use arrest, conviction, and prison as the default response for every broken law. For many nonviolent and first-time offenders, prison is not only unnecessary from a public safety standpoint, it also endangers our communities.
Once inmates are released, they struggle to find employment, housing, and other necessities that would re-integrate them into society. Facing few legitimate opportunities, many ex-offenders return to crime. The higher the incarceration rate for such offenders, the less safe the citizenry. We must instead consider those policies that better preserve public safety. Dangerous, violent offenders should be behind bars, but incarceration is not necessarily the best tool to put non-violent offenders back on the road to productive, law-abiding lives.
The report also points out that throwing money at the problem hasn't helped either. Money is useful, but only if it's spent on useful activities.
Each year, the federal government spends billions in criminal justice grants to support overwhelmed police department and government budgets. For example, the Department of Justice offered $5.5 billion in grants to local agencies in 2016. These dollars fund law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes. However, to a large degree, these outlays are not targeted at fighting violent and serious crime. In fact, some of these dollars are expended on antiquated law enforcement tools, such as dragnet enforcement of lower-level offenses. This misses an opportunity to prioritize resources towards more effective ways of fighting violent and serious crime in the states. Without such change, states will continue inefficient enforcement techniques.
Also discussed are sentencing reform, increased efforts to better deal with drug addicts and the mentally ill (something that doesn't involve regular deployments of force/jail time) and a heavier focus on community policing. What it doesn't contain are suggestions to roll back all of this to the mid-80s and pretend we have something like a crack epidemic to attend to. The conclusory paragraph says -- contrary to Trump's viewpoint -- that efforts in these areas will result in better law enforcement and safer communities.
But while many police officials and prosecutors disagree with Trump, police unions disagree with police officials (and prosecutors) -- albeit without going through the trouble of producing a report that explains their side of things.
“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.”
These comments are illuminating. In both cases, constitutionally-adherent policing is viewed as "soft." That's how far the pendulum has actually swung, despite Ramos' assertion to the contrary. Many police officers act as though the Constitution only applies to people they never interact with. For everyone else, their rights are whatever rights the officer feels they have at the time. As long as these rights don't prevent them from doing what they want, citizens are free to enjoy them. If not, take the complaint to court where various levels of immunity will routinely allow Constitutional violations to go unpunished.
A long list of DOJ investigations confirm law enforcement's generally negative attitude towards the people they police. First, an "us vs. them" attitude dehumanizes anyone not wearing a badge. Effective policing is unconstitutional policing, and cops aren't going to let a bunch of rights get in the way of cracking heads and asserting their authority. Undoubtedly, officials like Canterbury and Ramos view sentencing reform, community policing, curbing non-essential arrests, handling mental illness with more care, etc. as "soft" as well. And the new president appears to be onboard with this backwards thinking -- where adhering to the Constitution is a luxury a supposedly-besieged law enforcement community can no longer afford.