Holder: ‘Cookie-Cutter Approach’ to Crime Ignores Research

The Trump administration should ground its anti-crime strategy on evidence-based research and discard “ideologically-driven” approaches if it wants to keep Americans safe, former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday. He was joined by Georgia GOP Gov. Nathan Deal at the start of a two-day forum at John Jay College in New York.

Washington’s new leaders should discard “ideologically-driven” approaches to crime if they want to keep Americans safe, former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday.

Speaking at the launch of a two-day “Smart on Crime” forum at John Jay College in New York, Holder said the success of innovative strategies in areas like policing and corrections during his tenure demonstrated the value of justice system reforms based on research and scientific evidence.

“Ideologically-driven language is not in the best interest of the American people, or in trying to get control of the problems that (current policymakers) say they want to deal with,” he said.

Policy changes instituted so far by the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Jeff Sessions are “driven by ideology, policies, and views of policy that are inconsistent with evidence,” and threaten to revive the “discredited” tough anti-crime strategies that prevailed in former decades, said Holder.

Citing Sessions’ recent guidelines to prosecutors to pursue mandatory-minimum sentences even for low-level drug offenses, he observed, “This cookie-cutter approach seems to be going back to a discredited (period) that led to mass incarceration and is not fiscally sustainable.”

The John Jay forum brought together academics, policymakers, practitioners, advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals to discuss grassroots efforts around the country developed as part of the “Smart on Crime” initiative introduced by the DOJ under Holder in 2013.

Participants heard largely upbeat accounts of the progress of projects underway in courts, police departments and correctional systems, along with calls for changing the “culture” of U.S. criminal justice to reflect the growing bipartisan rejection of the harsh anti-crime measures of the 1980s and 1990s.

Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal told the conference that the success of “accountability courts” that provide counseling or alternatives to long-term incarceration for nonviolent offenders, such as drug courts, family courts and mental health courts in cutting the state’s high recidivism rates helped persuade even conservative state legislators to support justice reform.

nathan deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at the ‘Smart on Crime’ forum. Photo via YouTube

Soon after he took office in 2011, Deal said he was told that Georgia, with the 10th largest population in the U.S., had the country’s fourth largest prison population—and it was growing.

“They told me I would need to be prepared to build two new adult prisons—at a cost of $254 million,” he recalled.

The state was already spending $19,000 per prison bed annually, pushing the state Department of Corrections budget to $1.2 billion a year. Most of those behind bars were jailed for non-violent offenses, and many suffered from substance abuse issues.

Spending that amount of money to lock up people for offenses not considered violent would strike most people as wrong, he said.

“Some people said to me that prison reform or criminal justice reform don’t sound like Republican agenda items,” said Deal. “I said it doesn’t matter. It’s costing our state money, and more importantly the lives of many of our citizens.”

‘A Redemption Story’

Deal said his initial proposals to expand the state’s accountability courts passed unanimously in both houses of the Georgia legislature, and bipartisan support for additional changes has continued since. He plans to usher in a new package of criminal justice reforms in 2018.

“Accountability courts are the greatest thing we have seen—people who graduate from these courts are proud of it, not embarrassed by it. It’s religious in nature—a redemption story,” the governor said.

He went on to list other successful legislative measures aimed at changing policies towards the formerly incarcerated, such as “banning the box” which asks prospective job-seekers for state jobs if they had ever been imprisoned, and developing charter schools to help inmates receive high school diplomas.

The need to end job and housing discrimination affecting former inmates was a recurring theme addressed by many of the other speakers, who said it was a crucial step not only in preventing recidivism but in rebuilding families and communities which have been shattered by high incarceration rates.

“We should welcome (the formerly incarcerated) back to our American family so they can contribute to our communities and help build the tax base,” said Daryl Atkinson, a former inmate who was named the first “Second Chance Fellow” at the Department of Justice.

Atkinson recalled that despite receiving a high school diploma while in prison, he was denied federal student aid when he applied to enter college after being released, and was denied admission to five law schools. He finally received a B.A. in political science from Benedict College in Columbia, SC, and a J.D. from the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis., MN.

The “culture of redemption” changed his life, he told the forum.

“Imagine if we took that to scale,” he said.

“There are 2.2 million people in prisons and jails today, maybe six or seven million people under supervision and another 75 million who have prison records.”

But the forum’s upbeat approach was shadowed by the barely hidden concern that President Donald Trump’s administration was bent on reversing many of the policies ushered in during the Obama era.

“It doesn’t feel good,” admitted Holder. “We worked hard to put into place measures that were evidence-based.”

He noted that the continued surge in homicide and violent crime rates in cities like Chicago was a cause for concern, but he said Washington only seemed interested in using the problem as an excuse for political grandstanding

He called on his successor to provide more federal funds to Chicago rather than just angry rhetoric.

“Instead of pointing to (these problems) as an example of all things bad in America, do something,” he said to applause. “That’s your damn job.”

The Smart on Crime strategy, launched by the DOJ over three years ago, encouraged prosecutors, judges and police around the country to focus on developing a smarter use of their resources to ensure that the impact of the justice system was “fair” and unbiased.

It emphasized programs to develop alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes; boost prevention and reentry programs; and strengthen protections for “vulnerable populations,” according to a fact sheet released at the time.

The John Jay forum is co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress and supported by several foundations, including the Coalition for Public Safety; FWD.us; Gideon’s Promise; JustLeadershipUSA; Koch Industries; the Laura and John Arnold Foundation; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Right on Crime.

The conference continues Wednesday.

TCR news intern Megan Hadley also contributed to this report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trying Again, Trump Issues Third Immigration Ban

Starting Oct. 18, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be banned from entering the United States. Citizens of Iraq and Venezuela also face heightened scrutiny.

President Trump on Sunday issued a new order indefinitely banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country, says the New York Times. The new order is more far-reaching than the president’s original travel ban, imposing permanent restrictions on travel, rather than the 90-day suspension that Trump authorized soon after taking office. But officials said his new action was the result of a deliberative, rigorous examination of security risks that was designed to avoid the chaotic rollout of his first ban. And the addition of non-Muslim countries could address the legal attacks on earlier travel restrictions as discrimination based on religion.

Starting Oct. 18, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be banned from entering the United States, Trump said in a proclamation released Sunday night. Citizens of Iraq and some groups of people in Venezuela who seek to visit the United States will face restrictions or heightened scrutiny. Trump’s original travel ban caused turmoil at airports in January and set off a furious legal challenge to the president’s authority. It was followed in March by a revised ban, which expired on Sunday even as the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about its constitutionality on Oct. 10. Chad, North Korea and Venezuela are new to the list of affected countries, and Sudan has been dropped. For Trump, whose efforts on health care, infrastructure improvements and tax reform are gaining little steam, the new order is a third attempt to make good on his campaign promise to respond to terrorist threats by tightening entry at the nation’s borders.

from https://thecrimereport.org

America Needs ‘Better Way’ to Deal with Drug Abuse: OK Governor

The opioid epidemic is not a “Republican or Democratic issue,” says Gov. Mary Fallin. She told a conference on women’s incarceration this week that treatment and counseling should be considered legitimate alternatives to prison for individuals charged with low-level drug offenses.

Increasing numbers of conservative legislatures are backing sentencing reforms that divert individuals charged with low-level drug offenses away from prison, says Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” the Republican governor said during an event streamed live sponsored by the Atlantic magazine in Oklahoma City earlier this week.

“It’s about people (with) addiction or mental health issues who are not criminals and need a little extra help.”

She said the nation’s spreading opioid epidemic should persuade policymakers regardless of their party affiliations to find alternatives to punishment strategies that often end up destroying families and especially take a toll on children.

Fallin said the most common complaint by women she had spoken to who were incarcerated for drug offenses was “being away from my children.”

Fallin joined other participants in the event—the first of a three-part series called “Defining Justice: The Experience of Women and Children Behind Bars,” produced by Reveal, the online platform of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting—in identifying “tough-on-crime” drug laws as a leading cause of the high rate of incarceration of women in the country.

Oklahoma was chosen as the opening venue for the series because it has the country’s highest female incarceration rate: 151 of every 100,000 women are behind bars.

A report produced earlier this year by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force predicted a 60 percent increase in Oklahoma’s female prison population over the next decade if present policies continue. The state’s general prison population was expected to rise by just 25 percent in the same period, the task force said.

“We need to find a better way,” said Fallin, noting that many Oklahoma law enforcement authorities were “starting to pick up on the notion that there are other options” besides prison for troubled individuals involved with the justice system.

Fallin praised two measures approved by Oklahoma voters last year that have spurred major justice reforms, said The Oklahoman in its report of the event. One made certain low-level crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies, including simple drug possession and theft of items valued at less than $1,000. The other aims to use money saved by incarcerating fewer people to help fund drug treatment and mental health programs.

Other speakers at the live stream session echoed Fallin’s criticism of the nation’s “tough-on-crime” approach to troubled individuals who run afoul of  in the justice system.

“We have failed to look at mental illness and drug addiction as a health issue and (have) instead chosen to punish people who have an addiction, rather than treat (them),” said Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), a nonprofit interfaith foundation in Oklahoma City

Steele argued that many state legislatures are pursuing the wrong path with “tough on crime” laws, and they should move to “smart-on-crime” laws that aim to divert troubled individuals to treatment, rather than jail.

Jurisdictions that have already moved in that direction have experienced a decline in the number of women who are incarcerated, the session was told.

Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Table by Eric Segara/Reveal

In Oklahoma’s Tulsa County, for example, a diversion program for women who might otherwise face long sentences for drug offenses and other crimes has contributed to a decrease over the past seven years in the number of women sent to prison.

Former graduates of Women in Recovery show up to support new graduates at a ceremony earlier this year. Photo by Shane Brown/Reveal

The program, “Women in Recovery,” is funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, named for a little-known Tulsa oil billionaire. It provides rehabilitative treatment, life-skills classes, and employment counseling to help women  recover from substance abuse.

Incarceration rates are even higher for women in poverty and women of color, according to Reveal, which produced its reporting as a part of a year-long collaboration with The Frontier, an Oklahoma journalism startup.

African-American women are incarcerated at about “twice the rate” of their representation in the state’s adult population, Reveal’s analysis showed. 

And for Native American women, the disparity is almost three times their share of the population—primarily because of drug offenses.

Patricia Spottedcrow told the seminar she was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison after her conviction for possessing about $35 worth of marijuana. Prior to her arrest, Spottedcrow said, she had never been involved with the criminal justice system.

But media attention to her story helped get her sentence reduced. She spent just two years behind bars.

While Spottedcrow’s tale of early release is unusual, her excessive sentence is not.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, tens of thousands of people have fallen victim to harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, as a result of the U.S. “extreme sentencing policies” which have no parallel in other countries.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler believes that addressing the problem must begin with the children.

“Most women blame their drug issues on their childhood abuse,” Kunzweiler said during the session. “We need to put our money towards helping children who deserve protection.”

“The more money we spend on incarceration, the less money we have to spend on health care.”

Other speakers at the session included Tony Tyler of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Criminal Justice Task Force; Sheila Harbert, Chief Community Outreach Officer of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; and D’Marria Monday, Oklahoma Chapter Leader of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

The next live stream sessions connected with Reveal’s reporting will be held in Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. The first part of the Reveal series is available here.

Megan Hadley is a news intern with The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

An Ill-Suited Guest List for Wray’s Installation?

Former FBI directors normally attend the installation of a new chief for the bureau. Washington is wondering whether ex-directors James Comey, who was fired by President Trump, and Robert Mueller, who is investigating the president, will make an appearance.

New FBI director Christopher Wray is planning for his installation ceremony next Thursday. By tradition, such events feature a speech from the president, and the FBI’s deputy director acts as master of ceremonies for a VIP audience including past directors. That could put President Trump on stage with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — a man whose integrity the president has repeatedly publicly challenged – and speaking to a front-row audience that includes James Comey — the director he dismissed — and Robert Mueller — the special counsel investigating whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice, reports the Washington Post.

It’s hard to imagine a more ill-suited guest list. Trump fired Comey in May, setting the stage for Mueller’s selection as special counsel probing possible coordination between Russia and Trump associates. The events that led up to Comey’s firing are being investigated by Mueller’s team to see if the president or anyone around him attempted to obstruct justice. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that the Justice Department should consider prosecuting Comey. Wray was formally sworn in August 2. Installation ceremonies are a Washington ritual, usually a feel-good moment to gather friends and family for glowing speeches designed to flatter the new boss and inspire the staff. It seems likely Comey will not attend next week. Another ex-director, William Webster, praised Wray and Comey. “I’m a good friend of Jim Comey’s and I think we all make mistakes,’’ Webster said. He thought Comey erred by arranging for details from a memo he wrote about the president to be shared with a reporter, and he thought Comey misjudged the consequences of his announcement that he would not pursue criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state. One definite attendee will be Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Senators To Try Again on Sentencing Reform

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will reintroduce the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The two-year-old proposal failed to make it through Congress last year, and the Trump administration may oppose it.

Some U.S. senators are planning to take a second stab at passing a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill after it stalled amid GOP infighting, The Hill reports.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Tuesday that they will reintroduce the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. They didn’t specify a timeline. The bill, originally introduced in 2015, would cut mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and armed career criminals while increasing mandatory minimums for other offenses such as domestic violence.

“While the political landscape in Washington has changed, the same problems presented by the current sentencing regime remain,” Grassley said. Durbin, noting senators have been working on the issue for five years, called it the “best chance in a generation to right the wrongs of a badly broken system.”

The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a co-sponsor, predicting it could get floor time last year. The legislation hit a legislative wall amid pushback from a small yet vocal wing of Senate conservatives. House Republicans raised questions about whether they would be willing to take up the Senate bill.

See also: Will Sessions Views Continue to Block Sentencing Reform?

 The push to pass the bill could set up a potential fight with the Trump Justice Department, after the president ran as a “law and order” candidate. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was one of the leading opponents against the legislation when he was a member of the Senate.

Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, introduced legislation with GOP Sens. David Perdue (GA), Tom Cotton (AR) and Orrin Hatch (UT) that would require the administration to disclose recidivism rates for federal inmates released because of reduced sentences. The senators called the sentencing bill “dangerous for America.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Texas Turned the Page on Police Reform

The Sandra Bland Act, which came into effect this month, has been called an “example for the nation” in setting policies for police reform and dealing with troubled individuals. Texas State Rep. Garnet Coleman, the bill’s sponsor, sat down with TCR West Coast Bureau Chief Joe Domanick to discuss why one of the country’s toughest law-and-order states adopted it.

Now in his 26th year as a Houston Democrat in a conservative Texas House, Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman is the ranking member of the Public Health Committee, and chair of the powerful, wide-ranging County Affairs Committee.

Sandra Bland. Courtesy Wikipedia

He was the sponsor of the Sandra Bland Act, named in memory of the African-American motorist who, while driving in the Houston suburb of Prairie View in 2015, was pulled over by a white Texas State trooper. Both her stop and her subsequent arrest were caught on video, and proved highly controversial. Most striking was how quickly the trooper moved from mild arguing with Bland to suddenly arresting her with no attempt at de-escalation. Later, in an even more contentious development, Bland—who had some history of mental illness—died in custody in the Waller County jail, in what was later ruled a suicide.

The Act, which came into effect this month, has been called an “example for the nation” in setting policies for reform of police practices. Among other provisions, it earmarks money to train law enforcement in de-escalation practices, and requires authorities to divert justice-involved individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues into treatment.

In a chat with West Coast Bureau Chief Joe Domanick, Coleman discussed why he fought so hard for the Act, the peculiarities of Texas criminal justice law, and how legislators in one of the country’s toughest law-and-order states were persuaded to take a major step towards justice reform.

 TCR: Your focus in the past has been on children’s issues and mental health, yet you played the key role in passing the Bland Act. Why?

 Coleman: It’s very personal. I’m a black, born in the early ‘60s. I grew up at a time when I was a police target for just being me. I was stopped recently [by the police] just before the Bland hearing. And I was scared. All that [police officer] intimidation and worry when you’re stopped. [Editor’s note: In Texas a citizen can be arrested simply for committing a traffic violation, as was Bland.] People react to it differently. But why should someone be fearful for their life when they get pulled over? I have a daughter who is 21, a son who is 25. There were so many other things that this officer [who arrested Bland] could have done to avoid the situation that he didn’t do.

 TCR: What advantages did you start out with in getting the Bland Act passed?

 Coleman: The County Affairs committee that I chair has wide jurisdiction over [Texas] jails and sheriffs and the department of public safety. I’ve been working on mental illness since 1995, so I knew I could get that piece passed. And that’s the piece that had no opposition. The sheriffs and law enforcement were always for the mental health provisions. So I could say to them—and I did—you are getting nothing if you keep blocking the bill.

[In addition] I went to the [House] speaker and told him that the problem had gotten too big, that something had to be done. [Bland] had died; [there were recent videos] of another woman in Austin being violently thrown up the side of a car; a 14-year-old girl tackled in her bikini by an officer for nothing; and a teenager shot in the back of the head by an officer whom [the state of] Texas admitted was at fault in the civil suit.

Texas State Rep. Garnet Coleman

TCR: Who were the opponents of the Act?

 Coleman: The Sheriff’s Association. We have 254 counties. That’s 254 [very powerful] sheriffs. The Texas Metropolitan Police Association. The Police Chiefs Association. Most of your law-and-order members of the legislature were opposed. They were all opposed. At first, we couldn’t even get it out of the committee in the House.

 TCR: Eventually, as I understand it, the governor and lieutenant governor, who are powerful players in Texas, came out in favor of the bill.

 Coleman: They did not come out for it [at first]. They asked us to remove some important things from the bill: gathering data on pretext stops, on consensual searches and stop-and-frisk vehicle data—the kinds of things that really lead you to being able to have a provable finding of racial profiling. But once that happened, it passed out of the Senate. And I do believe that once the lieutenant governor and governor said this draft is fine with us, that everyone just backed off.

 TCR: So the fact that they were not opposing it, was in itself a message?

 Coleman: That’s exactly right. Once it got to the floor of the Senate, it passed unanimously and I picked it up in the house and the bill went through.

 TCR: Do you still think the law has teeth?

 Coleman: Most definitely. There are [now] more and easier ways to complain about police stops and abuse. Also included is [the requirement to keep] data on every stop and data on [police] violence—whether it’s a death or assault. And then there’s the big increase for de-escalation training.

TCR: Let’s talk about the Act mandated de-escalation training

 Coleman: Every peace officer in Texas now has to go through 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training; meaning they have to undergo 40 hours of de-escalation training in dealing with people who have mental illness; and we also mandated de-escalation training that has nothing to do with crisis intervention—that is to be used routinely in general circumstances. The police departments in Dallas are already using de-escalation techniques.

 TCR: Every peace officer statwide?

 Coleman: Yes.

 TCR: Do you think the 40 hours of training, even if it’s best practices, is enough?

 Coleman: Most definitely. That’s the ideal number of hours, according to best practices in mental health Crisis Intervention Training. Now it’s the law, part of the suite of training that all peace officers must have.

 TCR: Will that 40 hours of training be ongoing?

 Coleman: Yes, it’s on-going. They do the training again every couple of years. It’s not just at the academy. And it’s for both styles of de-escalation—mental health and in general circumstances. [The provisions of the Act] are there in perpetuity unless somebody removes them by law.

 TCR: What does de-escalation mean to you?

 Coleman: Peace officers should not approach people with a command-and-control stance, but use their soft skills to approach in a way that keeps everyone safe. Using distance, using reason to see how that person is at that moment and not rile everybody up, just trying to get everyone to obey what the officer is asking.

Fort Worth just adopted de-escalation training. Dallas is already doing it. So I believe it’s a way to move law enforcement in a different direction rather than just the same old actions every single time.

 TCR: Did you give up anything in terms of the de-escalation provisions now?

 Coleman: No. We still haven’t instituted the de-escalation rules and protocols yet. We want to make sure the training standards are strong, and meet current best practices in de-escalation training, and that we are not doing something that’s four or five years old.

 TCR: So all that still has to be developed.

 Coleman: Yes.

 TCR: You spoke about the mental health provisions bill, which survived and became law?

 Coleman: First, [informational] card swipes now have to be posted on the jail cells of people being jailed who are at risk of suicide or have emotional distress [so that jailers will be aware of a prisoner’s status.]

Joe Domanick

Second, the Act also mandates telemedicine and telemagistrates to be on call so that in smaller areas of the state so that [diagnosis and treatment] can be very quickly available.

 TCR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

 Coleman: I guess that I’m still in disbelief the first bill in Texas named for somebody that was a victim of the police actually passed.

Joe Domanick is West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Behind the Antifa Mask: ‘I Wanted to Fight for Something’

Anti-fascist activists come from a variety of backgrounds and are only loosely affiliated. Some are veteran demonstrators. Others are youths in search of a cause, including one who told the Washington Post, “I wanted a purpose.”

When summer began, few Americans had heard of militant anti-fascists, or “antifa.” Then came the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where antifa activists were credited with protecting clergy members from attacks by the alt-right. If Trump’s election has emboldened the far right, it has also energized its enemies, reports the Washington Post. Hidden behind masks, antifa activists remain mysterious. Are they everyday citizens guarding against the rise of a Fourth Reich? Or are they, as Trump has claimed, merely the “alt-left” — a lawless mirror image of the white supremacists they oppose?

On Thursday, Trump claimed recent antifa antics had justified his much-criticized response to Charlottesville, in which he blamed “both sides.” “I think, especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that’s what I said,” he said. Interviews with a dozen antifa activists show they come from a variety of backgrounds and are only loosely affiliated. Some are youths in search of a cause. “I wanted a purpose,” said Sean Hines, a high school dropout from Santa Rosa, Calif. “I wanted to fight for something.” Others have been demonstrating for decades. Many are anarchists, although some vote. They employ a range of peaceful tactics, including publicly exposing white supremacists. While they are all open to using violence, some embrace it — even glorify it. What unites them is the belief that free speech is secondary to squashing fascism before it takes root in the U.S.

from https://thecrimereport.org

CA Legislature Set to Vote on ‘Sanctuary State’ Proposal

As the state’s legislative session comes to a close Friday, lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill aimed at impeding the Trump administration’s efforts to deport illegal immigrants.

Friday is the last day of the California legislative session, and lawmakers are expected to vote on a “sanctuary state” bill aimed at impeding the Trump administration’s efforts to deport illegal immigrants, reports the Wall Street Journal. Lawmakers reached a deal on the proposal after resistance from law enforcement officials and Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor and the bill’s author, Democratic State Senate President Kevin de León, negotiated for several weeks, coming to an agreement on a final bill just days before the state’s legislative deadline. Brown sought more limited protections for immigrants than de León had wanted.

The maneuvering shows the deep political divisions over immigration as states struggle to set their own policies—even in California, a Democrat-majority state that offers an array of benefits to undocumented immigrants. Texas passed a law banning sanctuary cities, setting off suits and countersuits within the state. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law. President Trump has moved to end an executive action, put in place by President Obama, that shields illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents as children. On Thursday, Trump said he was close to reaching a deal with congressional leaders to give that group legal status.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The U.S. Needs Better Strategies to Fight Domestic Terrorism: Study

Since the 9/11 attacks, federal authorities have focused most of their attention on foreign “Jihadi terrorism.” That’s left policymakers poorly equipped to understand the threat posed by non-Jihadi American extremist groups and individuals, says a Congressional Research Service study.

What constitutes domestic terrorism?  How serious are the threats posed by domestic extremists to the lives and safety of Americans?

Federal authorities can’t definitively answer either question, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

The troubling lack of clarity about domestic terrorism has complicated investigations into incidents like the August 12 rally involving white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, the study notes, citing as an example the Department of Justice inquiry into the incident involving a man who drove his car into a group of protesters, killing one person and wounding 19 others, as a possible “hate crime,” —although Attorney General Jeff Sessions has since declared terrorism investigators are now also involved.

The CRS study, written by Jerome P. Bjelopera, who is described as a “specialist in organized crime and terrorism,” traces the problem to a shift in federal counterterrorism efforts to foreign-sourced terrorists since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

The shift left Justice officials and the FBI with insufficient tools to monitor and intervene in “non-Jihadi” threats posed by American extremists, according to the study, which was released last month.

That wasn’t the case before 9/11, wrote Bjelopera, noting that the FBI as late as 1999 was able to report that the “vast majority” of deadly terror incidents in the U.S. in the previous 30 years were “perpetrated by domestic extremists.”

But the shift in focus now means “the federal government lacks a process for publicly designating domestic terrorist organizations,” said the study, adding that as a result, it is “especially difficult to determine the scope of this diverse threat.”

The CRS report said policymakers and investigators at all levels would benefit from having a federally compiled list of organizations that can be defined as domestic terror threats, and a federal database of domestic terror incidents.

“The lack of such an accounting makes it difficult for policymakers to exercise oversight by comparing the levels of domestic terrorist activity against items such as homegrown violent jihadist activity and other threats to the homeland,” the study said.

“A regular public accounting could also help policymakers assess the effectiveness of the government’s response to the domestic terrorist threat.”

The 62-page study provided an overview of the broad range of terrorist activities and groups operating in the U.S., including white supremacists, neo-nazis, the Sovereign Citizen movement, eco-terrorists, black separatists and animal liberationists—derived from unclassified sources and advocacy groups.

It cited for example statistics published by the New America Foundation last month suggesting that domestic terrorists have killed 75 people in the U.S. since 9/11—compared to a death toll of 95 at the hands of jihadi terrorists. According to an unclassified FBI intelligence bulletin, 53 acts of violence were committed by “white supremacist extremists” between 2007 and 2009.

But the lack of a comprehensive government database, along with the fact that many domestic terrorists act on their own and use the internet as their principal form of communication, make it difficult for authorities at state, municipal and local levels to develop effective approaches to track and monitor threats.

One particular challenge noted in the study was the activity of so-called “Lone Wolves” who provide few footprints for law enforcement to detect ahead of their actions. The study quoted one FBI official as saying the agency doesn’t have the “capability to know when a person gets up in middle America and decides, ‘I’m taking my protest poster to Washington or I’m taking my gun.’”

The lack of clear guidelines for designating domestic terror groups may be the result of “First Amendment concerns” about discouraging free speech and expression, the study conceded—while pointing out that this was in “stark contrast” to international counterterrorism tradecraft followed by the U.S. government, which maintains a detailed list of emerging Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

The lack of a consistent process for designating domestic terrorist groups and identifying potentially violent extremist individuals “makes it harder for the federal government to discredit such groups and simultaneously strengthen public understanding of the domestic terrorist threat,” the study argued.

Such a designation might also enable authorities to press charges against those who provide “material support” for domestic terrorists, similar to current practices against foreign-sourced groups.

The CRS study is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

With a Buddy in the White House, Police Groups Revel

A national police union official says cops were beaten down by a “constant drumbeat of criticism” during the Obama administration. While police are newly emboldened, critics say Trump is blind to the potential abuse of law enforcement power.

Seven months into Donald Trump’s presidency, police groups are reveling in what they see as newfound support from the federal government, says the Associated Press. The administration, which touts a “law and order” agenda, has revived a controversial program that lets local police seize cash and property with federal help and pulled back on federal scrutiny of local law enforcement. And police groups checked another item off their wish lists when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told local police departments this week that they could once again have access to free grenade launchers and large-caliber weapons cast off from the U.S. military.

Sessions views federal support of local police as key to driving down the violence afflicting some cities, a top priority of the Justice Department. But critics say Trump’s recent moves, including his pardoning of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, display a troubling lack of skepticism about police power. And civil rights advocates, who found an ally in the Obama Justice Department, say they are left wondering how the administration will side if another racially charged confrontation becomes a flashpoint in the debate over police treatment of minorities. James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police said Trump’s support is a refreshing change from what he saw as a “constant drumbeat of criticism and villainization of police officers” under Obama. Trump seized on that in wooing political support from police unions, promising he would roll back Obama-era restrictions on law enforcement. Pasco said the “vocal and demonstrative” support of police by Trump and Sessions “is a huge morale boost.”

from https://thecrimereport.org