How to Find the Cops America Needs

The crisis in U.S. policing often begins at the recruitment stage. A TCR special report examines how police departments are trying to change the way they hire new officers, beginning with locating candidates who care about the communities they’ll serve.

Officer-involved shootings continue to be a major problem for police departments across the country. According to the Fatal Force database compiled by the Washington Post, 3,743 people have been shot and killed by police since 2015, with 746 of those deaths occurring in 2018 alone.

While a number of these incidents may be the result of officers responding to legitimate threats to their safety, and the safety of others, many still point to a pattern of violent and irresponsible reactions to situations that should have ended differently for everyone.

One solution has been to train officers in de-escalation and conflict resolution techniques, an option tried in major departments such as New York and Seattle. But increasingly, members of the criminal justice community say police need to take a much closer look at who they’re hiring, and how those men and women are being selected for a job that puts people’s lives in their hands.

“The traditional police hiring process really tends to eliminate people; it’s not designed to hire the best,” said Tom Wilson, director of the Police Educational Research Forum’s Center for Applied Research and Management, in an interview with The Crime Report.

According to GoLawEnforcement.com, an online employment resource for nationwide law enforcement, the standard hiring process consists of a written exam—usually multiple choice—an oral board interview, a physical agility test, a polygraph, a psychological exam, a background investigation, and a medical exam. Each candidate completes each exam and then moves on to the next.

Wilson, a 25-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, compares it to a “funnel.”

“You start at the top end of a funnel, and you get all these people to apply and then maybe by the time you actually hire somebody you whittle it down to one out of ten, twenty, thirty, forty.”

The “funnel” only serves to weed out those who don’t make it to the next step.  Most departments then rely on their training academies to further identify who has the desired and necessary skills they are looking for, and who doesn’t.

“If you don’t pass mustard in the academy, if you’re not able to pass certain requirements and tests, then you will be eliminated from the process,” said Wilson.

But police academies aren’t always reliable filters. With police departments around the country facing high demands for new officers, some cities’ academies are graduating people who are both ill-prepared and ill-suited for the job ahead.

Cities like Chicago and Baltimore, for example, who are under pressure to hire thousands of new officers, have been criticized for the quality of their new hires.  According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Police Department’s academy graduated more than 97 percent of its recruits over a four year period. According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, a third of Baltimore police recruits set to graduate lack even a basic understanding of the laws governing constitutional policing.

“As long as you have (hiring) quotas, you have targets, and when you have targets you’re eliminating good people,” said Stan Mason, host of the radio program Behind the Blue Curtain, in an interview with TCR.

A 25-year veteran of the Waco, Tx., Police Department, Mason was part of the selection process in his agency for 15 years. He points out that for most departments, and especially those in major municipalities, lowering standards to meet numbers begins at the hiring level.

As a result, even positive efforts like diversification can yield poor candidates when selection comes down to just filling required slots as soon as possible.

“When you have to meet numbers and you get down to the last two black guys, neither of them might be worth a thing,” said Mason. “But, one of them is going to get in there because you gotta fill those books.”

Stan Mason

Stan Mason

Mason recommends that cities and their departments focus instead on better understanding the demographics of their communities, stressing a need for departments that strive for a cultural diversity that mirrors the demographics of the cities or towns they police and, as a result, are better equipped to provide the kind of officers those communities really need.

It’s a necessity that Wilson agrees is long overdue for recognition.

“It’s time we start recognizing that different people bring different skills to this job, and we need that diverse background,” said Wilson, who adds that even just changing where and how departments hire those people is a step in the right direction.

In the wake of low unemployment rates, negative public scrutiny, and a shift in what younger generations want in a career, developing new and innovative hiring practices to fill the ranks of police departments is critical.

A 2017 national survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that governments are having more trouble hiring police than any other category of personnel. According to Wilson, this may be due, in part, to an outdated hiring strategy.

“It’s not the old standby that we go to the local colleges, or state colleges, or military bases,” said Wilson. “We need to start branching out a little bit.”

Some departments are.

Proactive Recruiting

In 2017, the Michigan State Police put full-time recruiters in the field, made community partnerships with the Black Caucus Foundation and America Corps, visited churches that recommended candidates, and launched an aggressive social media campaign with videos posted on Facebook and YouTube. Their most recent academy class, set to graduate in 2019, is the most diverse they’ve had in 20 years.

In Dallas, Chief U. Renee Hall launched a program that seeks to hire recent high school graduates as supplemental public service officers who will receive college tuition reimbursement and, upon program completion and reaching hiring age, become eligible to attend the police academy.

Its goals include attracting a new pool of recruits from different areas in the communities that the police serve and thereby strengthening trust.

However, Mason insists that innovative hiring campaigns like these, while positive efforts, are only successful if the departments know the people they’re serving and choose the right officer for the right community.

“You have to understand your city,” said Mason.

“You can’t hire two Blacks, 17 whites, and one Hispanic and say, ‘wow, look at us: we got more people.’ You just have more resources. If the resources can’t be applied effectively, what good is it?”

And for officers like Mason, making sure that departments are hiring people who know the communities they are policing is essential to ensuring everyone’s safety and understanding.

A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center found that in a national survey of nearly 8,000 police officers, 72 percent considered knowledge of the people, places, and culture of the areas they work extremely important to doing the job effectively.

However, many departments today find a lot of their officers live outside the communities they serve.

Does Location Matter?

According to The New York Times, in cities like Baton Rouge, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, a majority of officers don’t live within the city limits. In fact, data journalism outlet FiveThirtyEight reports that only 15 of the nation’s largest police forces even require residency for their officers at all. As a result, the number of officers policing communities they actually know is rapidly dwindling, creating greater risk for potentially deadly mistakes.

“If you have a white officer, who has never been around black people, is this guy going to fit in Detroit, Chicago, or Baltimore?” asked Mason.

“This guy can’t handle it; it’s culture shock.”

Faced with this reality, finding the best officers can’t just be about finding the people that culturally or ethnically best suit a specific community.

For David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a leading national authority on racial profiling, it must also be about finding the people who are able to make a connection with, and adapt to, any community’s culture.

The first step begins with paying attention to how a candidate behaves at home.

David Harris

David Harris

“If I’m recruiting people, I want to know what they do in their own community,” said Harris, a criminal justice author who has also worked as a professional trainer for law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

According to Harris, finding men and women who demonstrate a concrete commitment to the community in which they live, even if it’s not the one they’re applying to serve, is essential to finding out what kind of police officer they will be in the future.

“Do they coach Little League? Do they work at a soup kitchen? Volunteer for meals on wheels? Anything,” said Harris.

“Show me that they are people who care about that sort of thing.”

By finding such community-involved and adaptable individuals, Harris believes that departments can move closer to the more empathetic and conscientious officers that people want. And the departments that will have the best luck in finding these kind of men and women are the ones who reach out to those very same communities and ask, “what do you want.”

While conducting research in this area for his 2005 book “Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing,” Harris had the opportunity to observe the St. Paul Police Department do just that.

“They went to the community and asked them what kind of police department and officers they wanted,” said Harris.

“The people didn’t come up with physically strong, willing to run into a burning building.  What they came up with was good communicator, honest, having integrity, being able to talk to people. Those were the things that the community was interested in. What any community would be interested in.”

For Harris, this kind of cooperation and communication should be the norm, especially during the hiring process. For example, by including civilians and members of the community in police department’s review boards, which interview candidates on their qualifications and character, departments may have a better chance of improving the whole process and veering away from hiring the kind of command and control police officers traditionally sought after in the past by boards comprised mainly of a department’s sworn officers.

In fact, according to the Report on 21st Century Policing, released under the Obama administration, civilian involvement with local law enforcement agencies is essential to improving the state of policing in this country. And while police popularity may be low, a 2017 study by the Urban Institute found that large percentages of people living in the most challenging areas of cities like Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Birmingham, also professed a desire to work with police to solve neighborhood issues.

Community Involvement in Hiring

“A civilian group, or the community more broadly, can and should certainly be helping an agency determine what its priorities are,” agreed Seth Stoughton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and a former Tallahassee, Fl., police officer, in an interview with TCR.

A member of the Columbia, S.C., Police Department’s civilian advisory council, Stoughton explained that, as part of the department’s inclusive selection process, a member of his council always attends both police applicant interviews and officer disciplinary hearings.

Seth Stoughton

Seth Stoughton

Enjoying an equal voice and vote alongside the police chiefs and commanders in the room, these men and women can ask questions and provide feedback on a candidate that helps to better decide if they are the best choice for the job.

Another example of this kind of successful cohesion is Washington D.C. where, according to PBS.org, the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) has won praise for an effectiveness that is based on community outreach, independence, and authority to approve policy and training recommendations to the department.

But while the OPC may be an example of a best-case scenario when it comes to organizing civilian involvement and cohesion with police in the hiring process, Stoughton warns that no two departments are alike. Things like independence and authority are hard to come by, he said.

“The devil is in the details,” Stoughton observed. “How do you pick which civilian or set of civilians is going to be involved in this? How much say does the civilian have?”

In a country with roughly 18,000 different law enforcement agencies, finding the right answer to these questions is no easy task. A report by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) states that the largest impediment to establishing approaches to civilian oversight are the wildly different practices of any two jurisdictions, which can depend on a variety of political, cultural, and social influences.

Inconsistency of this kind can lead to board members being selected by the chief of police or a political official, a biased situation that some would consider no different than having the chief select an officer.

In addition, further damage can be done by the civilian members themselves, who, according to a study by the Columbia Journal on Law and Social Problems, can not only display bias towards the department that hired them, but could also be overly deferential to the police because of a lack of experience.

Shortcomings like these are exemplified by cities like Seattle and Albuquerque where, despite having established civilian oversight and apparent transparency in the past, they find themselves facing an uphill battle to improve their police departments.

In Chicago, a debate continues over whether civilian groups should oversee police at all. While it may be a small step in the right direction, civilian involvement is far from the only solution to finding today’s best, brightest and most empathetic police candidates.

“I think civilian involvement in the hiring process is an easy thing for most agencies and jurisdictions to do,” said Stoughton.

But he added, “I don’t think it entirely or substantially solves some of the problems that various agencies in various communities have experienced.”

Gypsy Cops

When it comes to proper hiring, one of the largest of those problems are known as “gypsy cops.”

Recently, communities in Cleveland were outraged to find out that Timothy Loehman, the Cleveland officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice, had been hired by the nearby Belair, Ohio police department on a part-time basis.

Despite losing his job in Cleveland for failing to disclose that the Independence, Ohio police department had previously found him unfit to be a member of their own department, Loehman was also permitted to apply at departments in Euclid and RTA. Though he has recently quit amid public pressure, he was still hired in Belair despite his very public and questionable reputation.

“Most would assume that if police departments knew what happened with an officer at a prior department you wouldn’t hire them,” said Roger Goldman, a Callis Family Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law, to TCR.

Roger Goldman

Roger Goldman

“That is absolutely not the case.”

Instead, police departments around the country have been rehiring officers with terrible records for years. And while some departments may look into a former officers past before hiring, they are too often either not digging deep enough or are willing to ignore prior misconduct and hire people who are a risk in the face of both state laws and department budgetary issues.

“State law can get in the way of screening officers who come from prior service,” said Stoughton.

According to the Washington Post, some states shield police personnel records, including firings, from public records, while state laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s allow police some form of collective bargaining rights. Thus, police unions are able to appeal any discipline taken against an officer and, more often than not, have them reinstated.

The process is lengthy, complicated and costly and, as a result, many departments prefer to avoid liability altogether and only provide a former employee’s start and end date.

“One agency might not want to tell another agency exactly why an officer no longer works there, because they might be afraid of a defamation lawsuit,” added Stoughton.

On the other end, Goldman said that police departments, especially smaller departments, will often choose to roll the dice on a former officer with a poor record just to save money, rather than spend what they may not have in order to train a completely new hire.

It’s a decision that can cost lives.

“What got me started in all of this was a cop at a St. Louis, Mo., department who was playing Russian roulette with suspects, and despite that was hired knowingly by another department that couldn’t afford a better cop,” said Goldman, who adds that the officer later ended up fatally shooting an unarmed suspect in the back.

‘Desperate for Bodies’

“Some departments are so desperate for bodies that they’re willing to hire anyone.”

But Goldman explains that this pattern can be broken by taking sole authority for hiring out of the hands of local departments and sharing it with the state.

For the last 40 years he has successfully crusaded for state laws that allow for decertification of police in instances of misconduct. Noting that state licensing boards already exist for occupations such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, and even plumbers, he argues that the policing field needs this same type of oversight.

Since New Mexico became the first state to get the authority to revoke licenses in 1960, 46 states have followed suit and established commissions with the power to decertify officers and a total of 30,000 officers have been decertified, according to an article from The Guardian.

However, four states—California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—still lack these kinds of regulatory bodies. Twenty of those states that do have the power can only decertify if the officer has been convicted of a crime, according to The Atlantic. Even some states that have the power to decertify often fail to utilize it, such as Louisiana, which The Advocate reports has only decertified six officers in the last 12 years.

While the issue of decertification is currently only an individual state concern, when plagued with these kinds of inconsistencies Goldman states that it may not be able to succeed without federal involvement.

“These are local matters, but you need federal oversight to make sure that individual departments come up to standards,” said Goldman.

Federal involvement of the Department of Justice (DOJ), in a fashion similar to the consent decrees issued after Ferguson in Missouri, Seattle, and Chicago, could help to motivate state efforts by denying funding to departments that fail to comply with set guidelines.  In addition, where there is currently no national database for recording decertified officers, activity by the DOJ could require one.

“Just how we now have the National Practitioner Databank for healthcare professionals, that has any disciplinary action that has been taken against the practitioner run out of Health and Human Services; so too if a police officer goes across state lines a licensing board would be able to access a federal databank,” said Goldman.

But, so far, the feds have done very little.

Since 2003, states have been required to submit data on officer-involved killings of civilians to the DOJ, but many have repeatedly failed to cooperate, with little to no resulting penalties, reports NBC.com. The only existing resource for recording decertified officers is the National Decertification Index, an independent databank that 45 states submit to and which accounts for 25,000 of the total 30,000 recorded since 1960.

In addition, the current administration has stated that it considers policing a matter of exclusively local oversight, going so far as to suggest cutting funding for the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides information and funding to advance the practice of community policing in departments nationally, a major blow to a seemingly already faulty system.

Yet, step by step, state by state, there are pockets of improvement.

Colorado recently passed a law stating that former officers cannot be hired by another department unless they waive any nondisclosure agreements that they may have made. New York, through regulation, has had the power to decertify since 2016, and Hawaii has recently enacted a decertification bill. In the ongoing effort to find the best possible officers, decertification helps prevent departments from hiring anything less and holds them to the same standards as other professions that are not given a badge and a gun.

“Like we do with lawyers, we can do with cops: take away their license, probation, suspension, so forth,” said Goldman.

“Policing requires the same kind of oversight that all these other occupations have.”

Peter Sarna, a 40-year police veteran and former chief of the Oakland Police Department, thinks that ideas like this are sorely lacking in the policing field overall.

“In policing, thinking doesn’t go very deep and it doesn’t go very far. It doesn’t look out over the horizon to see what the long term effects might be,” said Sarna in an interview with TCR.

A nationally recognized expert in police training and use of force, Sarna believes that this absence of foresight has not only led to circumstances like the gypsy cops, but also trapped policing in an outdated and unrealistic performance model: one that expects all their officers to be able to perform a variety of different task specific skill sets, at any given time, and to be able to switch rapidly between those skill sets depending on the task.

In addition to the basic tenets of the job, and the everyday potential for danger, police officers today are now called upon to handle a variety of new situations that they were before rarely called upon to deal with. From policing the mentally ill to performing disciplinary actions at schools, all while dealing with an increasingly popularized negative image of policing in general, police today are wearing a lot more hats—perhaps even too many.

When it comes to hiring and selecting, expecting to find large amounts of people who can perform all these duties effectively might be a tall order.

“Maybe you have 1 percent of your cops that you can recruit who are stars,” said Sarna.

“They have the mindsets, they can move quickly among different types of calls, they can catch bad guys, solve family fights, they can do spectacular work. But they’re a small percentage of the workforce.”

Looking for the ‘Renaissance Cop’

According to Sarna, this model of a “renaissance cop” ignores a stark reality of the profession: it requires a multiplicity of tasks performed by a variety of officers to succeed. While the goals of having de-escalation skills, empathy, and conflict resolution abilities in every officer are important and necessary to pursue, he insisted that there will always be those officers who are better at one aspect of the job than the other.

Instead of wasting time searching for new hires based on an idealized model of the perfect cop, he believes that the whole policing profession needs to be restructured and that police officers should be selected for specific positions based on the strengths they develop and bring to the job before and after training.

It is an idea that mirrors the kind of division of labor found in most hospitals today.

“You go to a hospital and there’s a doctor for every part of the body,” said Sarna. “It’s extensive.”

This kind of division of labor is more than necessary in the policing field, where the types of calls for assistance vary widely. And a recognition that certain types of calls warrant specialization and demand certain skill sets has begun to grow, especially when concerning the handling of the mentally ill.

In cities like New York and Chicago, departments have started Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) programs and created teams of trained officers who respond to any call involving the mentally ill or those in distress.

Sarna, who served as a rank-and-file officer in Oakland before becoming chief, pointed out that this type of specialization was attributable to much of Oakland’s success at that time. And though the “warrior vs. guardian” debate continues to define how officers are chosen, he insists that understanding the need for both, and how to properly assign them, is the key to a more successful, and safer, style of policing.

Tough Questions

But first, departments need to start asking themselves some tough questions.

“Do we need to specifically select a top tier of cops who are crime fighters and can do it well within the law?” asked Sarna.

“And do we also need ‘community service officers’ who can handle a lot of the tedious, mundane things that need to be done to work well?”

For Capt. Victor Davalos, Commanding Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Recruitment and Employment Division, there are no easy answers to these questions. He argues that a department’s ability to implement this kind of overarching specialization depends on specific factors.

“It’s important to know the differences, limitations and environment that every department operates in,” said Davalos.

Though it may be an option for larger departments, he notes that specialization is a luxury that most smaller departments, and even medium-sized departments like the LAPD, can’t afford.

“Unlike, for example, New York, which has about 30,000 officers, we only have approximately 10,000,” Davalos told TCR.

“We have to do a lot more with a lot less.”

And while the LAPD does have a program similar to the CIT teams in New York, where their officers are partnered with mental health specialists and respond to mental health calls together, and can also utilize a SWAT team to respond to very dangerous and high risk situations, Davalos points out that, in any department, there are a lot of calls to service in between those two dimensions.

“We really need officers that are able to respond to all types of situations,” said Davalos.

In order to find them, he and the LAPD feel that, rather than trying to restructure the whole department, a lot of progress can be made by simply making adjustments to policies and procedures that would make hiring easier and better suited to the times. And, for some departments, one such adjustment that is currently up for discussion is the use of marijuana.

Should Past Marijuana Use Disqualify?

In the past, drug use of any kind was considered an automatic disqualifier for service. But as marijuana laws become more relaxed around the country, with Business Insider reporting recreational use legal in 10 states and medicinal consumption legal in 33, police departments are following suit. In places like Chicago, Denver, Portland, police departments are relaxing their policies on past marijuana use in an effort to attract candidates who would otherwise be passed over.

Davalos says the LAPD is following suit.

“As those laws continue to evolve, so must we, so we remain current and we’re not using outdated guidelines,” said Davalos.

In addition, the LAPD and other departments are also reconsidering disqualifying applicants based on credit checks and certain criminal records, both of which, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, disproportionately impact racial minority candidates who are more likely, for multiple reasons, to have low credit scores and more contact with criminal justice in their communities.

By adjusting certain aspects of selection in this way, departments ideally have a chance at widening the pool of applicants they have to choose from.

Aram Kouyomdjian

Aram Kouyomdjian

This was the case in Philadelphia where, in 2017, after lowering the college credit requirements and raising the hiring age, the police department experienced a 20 percent increase in applications from the roughly 5,000 annually that they were accustomed to. More applicants arguably allows departments to be more selective in their hiring and take the time to find the best possible candidate, opening a pathway up to those most needed that gets them through the hiring process much faster for much less.

“If I’m trying to process 10,000 people, many of whom are unqualified, that is a harder drain on my resources than if I’m processing 7,000 candidates who are more qualified,” said Aram Kouyoumdjian, Assistant General Manager (Public Safety) of the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department, the entity that handles testing and produces the lists of eligible candidates certified to be hired for the LAPD’s final review, to TCR.

“It actually makes the process easier for them and for us.”

According to Kouyoumdjian, this more streamlined process, and resulting influx of officers, has allowed his department, which handles every aspect of hiring but the police department interviews, to fine-tune testing to focus more on reading comprehension and communication skills, adjust physical exams to be more in line with what is done in the academy, and take a much harder look at applicants backgrounds than ever before.

“It’s about trying to get more qualified candidates into the process from the get go, as opposed to just testing willy-nilly and spending time screening people out,” said Kouyoumdjian.

Yet some in law enforcement remain concerned that changes such as these could potentially have dangerous results.

A 2016 article for policeone.com warns that a person with poor credit history may be susceptible to bribery, someone convicted of a previous crime may reoffend, or a person who can’t meet physical standards may jeopardize the lives of others.

And in Texas, ksat.com reports that the San Antonio Police Officers Association recently argued that changing the standards for department hires may lower the quality of men and women hired for the job rather than improve it.

Despite these concerns, Kouyoumdjian insists that changing the standards by no means equates to lowering them.

“Our responsibility is hiring officers who can deliver on all fronts.”

“We want officers who can, when circumstances call for it, perform the job of law enforcement, but (who will) also be able to recognize who needs protection and who needs accountability.”

However, although this kind of clear-sighted and optimistic approach may be necessary to finding today and tomorrow’s best police candidates, it might not be enough to tackle the many real hurdles the industry has to overcome.

While practices such as involving the community in hiring, diversifying applicants, decertifying lateral hires, restructuring division of labor, and updating and evolving hiring to suit the times represent some of the best efforts being made today to find the officers we need tomorrow, men like Peter Sarna still remain unconvinced.

Isidoro Rodriguez

“Are we fooling ourselves? Can we actually get people in large numbers, who can perform full spectrum policing? Or is it impossible?”

The answer to those questions may determine the future of 21st century policing in America.

Isidoro Rodriguez is a contributing writer to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ten Women Who Changed Criminal Justice in 2018

The Crime Report is proud to spotlight ten individuals whose work not only symbolizes the emerging roles of women as justice change-makers, but also reflects the issues that dominated the justice agenda during 2018. Our picks include Christine Blasey Ford whose testimony at the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings riveted the nation.

“Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”

The powerful words of 23-year-old Maria Gallagher who, along with her fellow activist Ana Maria Archila, confronted a shaken Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) on a Senate elevator during the nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October, rocked the country this year.

They not only underlined the refusal of women to stay silent any longer about sexual assault in the wake of the #MeToo movement; but they made clear that women’s critical leadership in the multi-front movement to fix our justice system cannot be ignored.

Last year, staff, contributors and readers of The Crime Report chose the collective participants in the #MeToo movement as one of its top “newsmakers” of 2017, and the national debate about sexual misconduct was ranked #2 in our Top Ten stories.

But those choices eclipsed the agenda-setting role played by women at every level of the justice system, in areas ranging from advocacy and research to corrections, courtrooms and policymaking. So this year, we decided to discard our traditional “Top Ten” list in favor of a sharper focus on women as drivers of our national conversation on justice reform.

Our list barely captures the variety and depth of women’s achievements, but we’ve chosen these champions also to reflect the issues that dominated the justice agenda during 2018, from the opioid crisis, gun violence and prison conditions, to  domestic trafficking and immigration reform.

They symbolize the emerging roles of women as justice change-makers.

“Women know how to navigate the politics, work across the political spectrum, and get the work done,” said Liz Ryan, director of Youth First, and one of The Crime Report’s 2018 choices.

Ryan is quick to add that women don’t necessarily welcome the spotlight. “My experience is that the women in this movement are about getting the work done and not about the spotlight or the credit.”

We can’t disagree. But it’s also important to note that women bring unique life experiences to the conversation about justice.

“Women have carried for centuries the burden of violence on our bodies,” said Kristin Shrimplin of Ohio’s Women Helping Women program. “We have the scars. We can be trusted that we also have the solutions.

”And frankly, that’s one reason why I strategically partner with men in positions of power. I need them to open the door to the rooms I am not in so that I can bring in the advocacy for, by, and about survivors. We can all be part of effective justice reform this way.”

Here’s our list, arranged in alphabetical order.

Needless to say, readers will have other names they would like to add.

Let us know by email to megan@thecrimereport.org or in your comments on this post, and we’ll be glad to list them next week!

Leann Bertsch

Leann Bertsch

Leann Bertsch

Leann Bertsch, director of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation in North Dakota and also president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, has been a leading proponent of ending solitary confinement in prison, as well as improving prison conditions for all inmates. During 2018, she emerged as an influential voice for national prison reform following a trip to Norway and other European countries organized by U.S. prison reform groups. In an interview with NPR, Bertsch said the trip was a defining moment for her, and inspired her to speed up reforms already in the works for North Dakota’s prison system.

“There’s such an overemphasis on punishment and punitiveness,” Bertsch said. “You know Norway talks about punishment that works, and [that means making] society safer by getting people to be law-abiding individuals and desist from future re-offending.”

Armed with the knowledge she brought back from Europe, Bertsch instructed North Dakota prison wardens to drop minor infractions like talking back to a corrections officer, and created a top-10 list of dangerous behaviors, such as serious assault, using a weapon and murder.  The transformation of traditional  prison culture even extends to nomenklature. This year, the segregated housing units in the state’s correctional facilities were renamed Behavior Intervention Units (BIU).

Carmen Best

Carmen Best

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best

In July, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan named Carmen Best as the city’s new police chief, calling the appointment “an important step in public safety and meaningful and lasting police reform.”  In a city that has experienced endemic police morale issues—a court-appointed monitor only this year  found the police department to be in compliance with a 2012 federal consent decree prodded by allegations of  racial bias, and just a month before Best’s appointment there were reports of a “mass exodus” of rank-and-file officers unhappy about what they said was the city’s lack of support—it seemed like over-optimistic rhetoric. But remarkably, a wide consensus of Seattle opinion, from the police union to prosecutors and community leaders, agreed with the mayor that their new chief represented welcome change.

The 53-year-old Best, the first African-American woman to sit in the Seattle chief’s chair, replaces another female chief, noted reformer Kathleen O’Toole, who stepped down last year for what she described as “personal reasons.” Best, a 26-year-veteran of the Seattle Police Department (SPD), almost didn’t get the job. She was originally passed over as a finalist; but lobbying by community leaders and, surprisingly, the police union, got her back on the list. In an interview this year, Best made clear why she may turn out not only to be a creative force behind the revitalization of the 1,444-officer force, but  emerge as a national leader for policing reform.

“Policing has evolved not only nationally but certainly locally,” she said. “Supervisors now spend more time looking at reports, use of force, crisis intervention. We weren’t doing that in the same way [when I started] 26 years ago. Even the fact that we are carrying Naloxone [a drug used to reverse opioid overdose] now, and administering lifesaving efforts in the field—that …wouldn’t have been something that I would have thought we would be doing, but we are doing it because we are engaged in a much more holistic effort in the community.”  One notable fact: With Best’s appointment, Seattle’s mayor, police chief and county sheriff are all women.

Christine Blasey Ford

protest

Protesters outside the Kavanaugh hearings, Oct.2018. Photo by Charles Edward Miller via Flickr

The elevator confrontation between the activists and Sen. Flake described above occurred in the midst of Senate Judiciary Committee testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, who accused Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh (then a nominee), of sexually assaulting her when the two were students in the Washington, DC area. The explosive accusations had raised troubling questions about Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court only days before his confirmation vote.

Ford’s compelling testimony riveted the nation.  “I am here today not because I want to be,” she admitted at the start. “I’m terrified.” But although her gripping account of what happened more than three decades earlier didn’t stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation, she effectively empowered many sexual assault survivors to come forward with their own stories and force lawmakers to acknowledge the long-term traumatic effects of male misconduct.

Ford herself has said little publicly about her ordeal since returning to California, except to note that she continues to be a target of threats and harassment, and has been forced to move from her home and leave her job. “I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable,” she said. “People have posted my personal information on the internet.” But Ford’s courage in speaking out has forever enshrined her in the pantheon of American female crusaders for justice.

 Emma González

Emma Gonzalez

A portrait of Emma Gonzalez by “sheringsnippets,” one of 30 artworks of Emma featured in Latina magazine. Photo by Vince Reinhart via Flickr.

Emma González became, for many Americans, the face of the movement for gun control in 2018. She was an 18-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when a gunman killed 17 people and severely wounded many others in a Valentine’s Day tragedy that added to the tragic toll taken by mass shootings in America. With other students, including Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and David Hogg, Gonazález launched a gun control movement that quickly spread nationwide. “We are going to be the last mass shooting,” González boldly announced.

The prediction turned out to be premature, but the students’ group, which TIME calls “the most powerful grassroots gun-reform movement in nearly two decades,” persuaded Florida legislators to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raised the minimum age for buying firearms to 21, established waiting periods and background checks for gun purchasers, funds a program for arming selected teachers and hiring more school guards, bans bump stocks, and bans  potentially unstable individuals with arrest records from possessing guns. González alone boasts 1.66 million Twitter followers — hundreds of thousands more than the National Rifle Association’s (NRA)  710,000.

González, who graduated in June, is still not old enough to vote; but that hasn’t stopped her from transforming the politics of the gun control movement, even as efforts to change the national argument about guns (and battle the influence of the NRA) have made little headway. “You might not be a big fan of politics, but you can still participate,” she wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times in October.  “All you need to do is vote for people you believe will work on these issues, and if they don’t work the way they should, then it is your responsibility to call them, organize a town hall and demand that they show up — hold them accountable.”

Kimberly Foxx

Kim Foxx

Kimberly Foxx

The first African-American woman to lead the Cook County State Attorney’s office in Chicago, Kimberly Foxx has focused on addressing the underlying causes of violent crime, which continues to push Chicago into the top national ranking for murders—even as homicide rates are declining in most cities around the country.

Foxx believes the place to start is community distrust of police, which has affected the ability of law enforcement to identify and arrest shooters, and she made a start in that direction soon after her election in 2016 by sharply reducing or even eliminating arrests and punishment for non-felony offenses—one of the factors that contributes to the alienation of at-risk neighborhoods from the justice system.

In March, she took another bold step by releasing over six years of felony criminal case data on the Cook County Open Data Portal—the first such release of its kind in the country. “For too long, the work of the criminal justice system has been largely a mystery,” she said in announcing the move. “That lack of openness undermines the legitimacy of the criminal justice system. Our work must be grounded in data and evidence, and the public should have access to that information.”

Cristina Jiménez

Cristina Jimenez

Cristina Jimenèz,. Courtesy John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The picture for immigration reform grew darker this year. Stories about children separated from their parents by U.S. immigration authorities and the administration’s continuing anti-immigrant rhetoric dominated the news. But among the bright spots was the organization known as United We Dream, which has spearheaded the cause of some 700,000 young people born to undocumented parents who were allowed to stay and pursue citizenship in the U.S. under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Cristina Jiménez, the co-founder of UWD, was also named by TIME as one of this year’s 100 most influential people, and is one reason for hope that the nation’s core values as a welcoming home for immigrants fleeing persecution and poverty in their native lands will eventually prevail.

Jiménez, who was 13 when she was brought by her parents from Ecuador, emerged from the shadows as a founder of what is now one of the largest immigrant youth-led organizations in the country. Even in the face of setbacks this year in efforts to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, she has helped maintain the political profile of  UWD –now a network comprising  over 400,000 members and 48 affiliate organizations across 26 states. “My college advisor [in high school] told me that she was not going to help me apply for college, that I couldn’t go to college because I was undocumented,” Jiménez, who at 33 became the youngest MacArthur Fellow last year, said in a published interview. “If I had listened to her, if I had believed her, if I had not pushed back against that and sought out other people to help me, I don’t know what would have become of me.”

The Hon. Catherine Pratt

Catherine Pratt

The Hon. Catherine Pratt

Women’s advocates have long argued that a key tactic in the fight against sex trafficking  is to eliminate policies that effectively criminalize the young women and girls trapped by a practice that earns millions of dollars for the traffickers themselves. Judge Catherine Pratt has turned her Superior Court in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton into an example of what can be done.

Pratt, a member of the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Child Sex Trafficking since its launch in 2014, has mandated custody time for many child sex trafficking victims who are arrested on other charges, usually following a public safety analysis. “We try not to use incarceration unless it’s necessary,” she has said.  “If I’m concerned about a girl’s safety I’m going to find a therapeutic placement.”

A member of The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, a group that  calls on judges to use their “unique position” to prevent sexual exploitation of children by developing a coordinated response by the courts and social service providers to identify victims and use rehabilitative strategies to help them “heal from trauma,” she was a major player this year in efforts by the Center for Court Innovation to re-calibrate attitudes toward prostitutes as victims, rather than criminals. As she put it: “These girls have been victimized by their families, and they have been abused by exploiters who have sold them on the street.”

 Liz Ryan

Liz Ryan

Liz Ryan

Women have long been leaders in the national effort to change how courts and corrections officials treat young people who get in trouble with the law. And in that list, Liz Ryan is often placed in the first rank. A juvenile justice expert who founded the nationally recognized Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), she has focused her efforts most recently on the campaign to close youth prisons and end the punishment-oriented approach that has trapped many young people in a “pipeline” that turns many of them into adult offenders.

Now director of Youth First, a national advocacy organization working to close youth prisons, Ryan has been an influential voice in the national movement to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth in the adult criminal justice system. Some 70 pieces of legislation in at least 36 states have enacted major reforms in areas ranging from raising the age of adult jurisdiction to removing youths from adult prisons over the past decade, and the juvenile commitment rate has dropped by half to its lowest level since the federal government began tracking figures in 1997.  But Ryan and her fellow activists believe there’s a lot more work to do.

This year, Ryan released a game-changing report, The Geography of America’s Dysfunctional & Racially Disparate Youth Incarceration Complex, which showed that an estimated 50,000 young people in the U.S. are incarcerated in youth prisons or other out-of-home confinement facilities in the juvenile justice system, a situation that Ryan has described as a national “epidemic” of youth incarceration.  “This approach isn’t safe, isn’t fair and doesn’t work,” says Ryan.  “It should be abandoned and replaced with less costly and more effective community-based alternatives to incarceration.”

Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Elaine Sheldon

Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s  documentary Heroin(e), released last year, won national recognition in 2018, with an Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Documentary and now an Oscar nomination.  Sheldon’s 39-minute Netflix film monitored the struggles of women suffering through the opioid crisis in Huntington, a small town in her native West Virginia. Already a Peabody Award-winner, the 30-year-old Sheldon has been named as one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine. Her grassroots perspective showcased an often-overlooked truth  about the nation’s opioid epidemic.  While men comprise the  majority of overdose fatalities, there has been an 850 percent increase in synthetic-opioid-related female deaths between 1999 and 2015.

For Sheldon, it’s personal.

“Just looking at my cheerleading squad in middle school and my high school graduating class reminds me how many friends and classmates ultimately became addicted, lost their children or have overdosed,” she said in a published interview earlier this year. But, she added, her documentary can also provide a powerful impetus for young women across the country. “Appalachia is home to a lot of strong women…. I hope young women see them and the leadership they represent, their boldness and their fearlessness, and are inspired.”

Kristin Shrimplin

Kristin Shrimplin

Kristin Shrimplin

A leader in the fight against domestic violence in Cincinnati, Kristin Shrimplin heads Women Helping Women (WHW), a social justice agency focused on empowering survivors, assisting witnesses of domestic violence and raising awareness about gender-based violence across four Ohio counties.

In 2018, Shrimplin’s agency served more survivors than ever in its 44-year history—and is on target to close the year out at a 20 percent growth rate of over 7,000 survivors.

Just as significantly, WHW launched a partnership with the Cincinnati Police Department, through a Domestic Violence Emergency Response Team, which allows the agency to immediately tend to victims to provide them with relocation assistance and any other support that they may need in order to get back on their feet.

But Shrimplin is not about to rest on her achievements. “The needle is not moving and has not been moving for convictions for domestic violence, and it is incredibly not moving for sexual violence convictions,” she told The Crime Report.

Recently Shrimplin was instrumental in launching a survivor-centered, corporate certification program, WorkStrong to address policy, training and response for survivors in the workplace.  “I’m impatient,” she admitted. “I don’t believe that we need to keep waiting to make things better in this region for survivors.”

Count on hearing more about Shrimplin—and the other women on our list—in 2019.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer and associate editor of The Crime Report. Please send us your own nominations for other women who made a difference in justice in 2018.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Pain Doctors Wrongly Taking the Blame for the Opioid Crisis?

A California doctor now serving a 25-year term for operating a “pill mill” says pain management specialists like himself are scapegoats for the government’s failure to address the opioid epidemic. Many experts and pain advocates contacted by The Crime Report suggest he has raised a valid point.  

Dr. Masoud Bamdad and his wife, Shabnam Datalchian, emigrated from Iran to California in 1987, in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their two then-young children.

Four decades later, Dr. Bamdad is serving a 25-year sentence on a federal charge of distributing and dispensing Oxycodone, an opiate pain reliever, in Federal Medical Center (FMC) Fort Worth, a Texas prison.

Dr. Bamdad, believing he was innocent, had refused to take the plea deal he was offered, or to admit guilt, which is why the judge gave him such a high sentence.

The journey he took from clinic to jail is one of hundreds of similar, but little-known, footnotes to America’s struggle with the opioid epidemic.

clinic

Dr. Masoud’ Bamdad’s clinic in San Fernando, Ca., was raided by DEA agents in 2008.

Dr. Bamdad is a certified pain management specialist and a physician licensed to practice family medicine. After completing a four-year pathology residency at Rutgers University Medical School, a two-year fellowship at the University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center, and qualifying for a certificate in pain management at USC Holy Cross, he and his wife, a dentist, opened the “Americare Medical and Dental Clinic” in San Fernando, Ca., in 1999.

They did well, following the classic path of immigrants starting from nothing in a new land. Their clinic provided pain reliever medication, including Oxcycodone, and advice to patients suffering acute or chronic pain. The government argues that the clinic was in fact a “pill mill,” dispensing massive amounts of opiates to patients without bothering to check whether they needed them.

But as far as Dr. Bamdad was concerned, he never broke the law.

He believes, in fact, that he is a “scapegoat”–along with other convicted pain doctors like himself–for the nation’s failure to address the opioid crisis.

In an interview via email from prison, he told The Crime Report:

At the time that I was practicing medicine, there was no concern and information about the opioid epidemic, and we were all in [the] dark. The government had not prosecuted all doctors who were prescribing opioids, they just selected some doctors and used them as scapegoats to teach a lesson to others.

Patient advocates and medical experts interviewed by The Crime Report suggest he has a point.

Although they didn’t comment on the specifics of the Bamdad case, they argued that federal efforts to combat the opioid epidemic by cracking down on pain medication prescriptions are an example of government overreach that has unfairly targeted some of the most vulnerable providers.

Worse, they add, the practice has caused grievous harm to many Americans who depend on pain relievers for their chronic illnesses.

”Without access to legal prescriptions, they are forced to go to street dealers for their pills,” said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy at The University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“As we reduced the number of opioids out there, chronic pain patients become medical refugees,” she added. “People are dying.”

In the most tragic cases, according to an investigation published earlier this week by FoxNews, it has driven some desperate pain sufferers to suicide.

Leo Beletsky

Leo Beletsky

Leo Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health at Northeastern University, called the government crackdown on prescribers an example of picking on “the lowest hanging fruit.”

Noting that most measurements of DEA success are based on the numbers of arrests and prosecutions, he argued that federal actions have largely ended up “ensnaring a lot of vulnerable people” who, if anything, represented minor players in a crisis that was fueled in part by the activities of major pharmaceutical firms.

The number of doctors and pain specialists imprisoned for violations of the Controlled Substances Act is still relatively small.

A Crime Report investigation identified 263 registered physicians, convicted and imprisoned on charges brought by the DEA Diversion Unit—the unit that handles controlled substances—between 2003 and 2017.

In nearly all the cases, the charges related to opioid prescriptions..

The total number of doctors affected, however, is probably much larger. While only a few hundred doctors have been incarcerated under the crackdown on over-prescribers, over 3,000 doctors have been forced by the DEA to surrender their licenses between 2011 to 2015 alone, according to figures obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The “Pill Mill” Argument

Like many of the other physicians hit by the crackdown, Dr. Bamdad might have avoided a jail term by simply admitting his guilt, and giving up his license.

But when agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided his clinic, he was confident that the government would discover its error. The amount of Oxycodone he prescribed to his patients, he claims, was based on guidelines set by the Medical Board of California.

The government charges, however, that he was running a “pill mill,” dispensing large amounts of opioids to his patients without thoroughly examining them.

After declining the plea deal, Dr. Bamdad was convicted on ten counts of illegally prescribing Oxycodone and three counts of illegally prescribing Oxycodone to persons under 21.

His lengthy sentence, according to U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, was justified by the scope of Masoud Bamdad’s “pill mill,” the seriousness of his illicit prescribing, and his apparent lack of remorse.

According to media reports at the time, Wu cited the prosecution’s report that for three years running — including 2008, the year of his arrest —Bamdad ranked among the state’s highest prescribers of Oxycodone, a powerful narcotic popularly known as “synthetic heroin.” The volume of his prescriptions exceeded that of many hospitals and pain management clinics, Wu said.

Dr. Bamdad counters that he never prescribed more than he was permitted under his license, and he also denies prescribing to anyone under the age of 18. He also maintains that he operated a relatively small office with three medical assistants, and rebuts government charges that he was among California’s “highest prescribers of Oxycodone.”

He said in his email:

All my prescriptions were for a legitimate quantity of painkillers for a legitimate time span, as even my defective indictment reveals. 2-3 pills per day as my indictment illuminates, only for controlling pain based on the guidelines of Medical Board of California for treating pain with narcotics at the time of my practice.

The key weapon used by the government to prosecute Dr. Bamdad and other alleged “pill mills” is the Controlled Substances Act. Advocates say the Act, which was most typically used to combat activities of drug kingpins by prosecuting them for the “manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of certain substances,” is being wrongly used against many legitimate medical professionals.

Dr. Linda Cheek, a pain specialist who was incarcerated herself for over-prescribing painkillers and now leads a nonprofit, Doctors of Courage, which champions “innocent doctors” caught up in the opioid crackdown, charges the DEA has based its actions against doctors on a misinterpretation of a key section of the Controlled Substances Act.

Section 802 (56) of the Act allows the individual practitioner to determine what is “legitimate medical purpose for the issuance of [a] prescriptions;” but, Dr. Cheek argues, U.S. Attorneys and DEA agents with little or no medical training have taken it upon themselves to determine what is a “legitimate” medical purpose.

The DEA disputes such arguments, maintaining that there is nothing ambiguous about a “pill mill,” even if it calls itself a pain management clinic.

“In a typical pill mill case, you’d see hundreds of patients in a small amount of time frequenting that facility,” said Melvin Patterson, a special agent who is an official spokesperson for the DEA. “Just like you would see pills in a pill mill— they go in and out. That’s how we came up with the term.”

The charges and countercharges in Dr. Bamdad’s case reflect a much larger and more troubling issue, according to critics of the government’s anti-opioid policies.

While there have been well-publicized examples of profiteering doctors who have operated clinics as a kind of assembly-line where pain medications are dispensed freely with few questions asked, experts say the government is using the blunt weapon of prosecution to hold pain-management physicians responsible for an epidemic that had little to do with their activities.

That begs the question: Are the wrong people taking the fall for the opioid epidemic?

Who’s to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid crisis continues to shake America.

According to figures released by the National Institutes of Health, as of March 2018, more than 115 Americans die every day from overdosing on opiates, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Many critics have singled out the activities of pharmaceutical firms for blame.

So-called Big Pharma is now the target of multiple lawsuits brought by state attorneys general around the country, as well as by native Americans who contend that tribal populations were especially victimized by the opiates that flooded Indian Country.

The lawsuits contend that the production and distribution of massive amounts of pain medications over the past decades were fueled, in the words of one filing, by “a massive deceptive marketing campaign [aimed at] convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction, contrary to overwhelming evidence.”

“It’s the…pharmaceutical executives who should be in jail,” said Dr. Nielsen. “They cost lives and terrible, terrible misery.”

Joe Rannazzisi

Joe Rannazzisi

Joe Rannazzisi, former head of the Office of Diversion Control for the Drug Enforcement Administration, agrees.

“Should some of these companies have been more heavily fined or criminally prosecuted?” he told The Crime Report. “Yes.”

Rannazzisi, who leaked details of what he said were the federal government’s efforts to deflect prosecutions against pharmaceutical companies to The Washington Post and CBS 60 Minutes in a celebrated “whistleblowing” expose, has charged that the opioid crisis was allowed to spread by “Congress, lobbyists, and the drug distribution industry that shipped almost unchecked, hundreds of millions of pills to rogue pharmacies and pain clinics—providing the rocket fuel for the opioid crisis.”

Advocates say government crackdowns on prescription providers don’t address the real roots of the epidemic, including the question of how opiates like Oxycodone came to be seen as a solution for many symptoms aside from chronic pain.

“We were told that the drugs prescribed for pain were safe, and that it was extremely rare that people became addicted,” said Dr. Nielsen. “And [we now know] that is simply not true.”

But senior management at the companies has received little more than slaps on the wrist. In 2007, three executives at Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about the drug’s risk of addiction and its potential to be abused.

Opiates and Bias

One other aspect of the DEA crackdown on physicians raises additional concerns.

Dr. Cheek, who spent 24 months in prison for prescribing painkillers, believes that racial bias is a factor in many of the cases that resulted in doctors’ imprisonment. She noted that many of her fellow medical incarcerees were minorities, and were therefore considered vulnerable by authorities.

“Once the government sees these people won’t have much support…they think ‘we’ll get a plea out of them, take their money, and on to the next target,’ ” she said.

While such claims are difficult to prove, The Crime Report investigation found that of the 263 doctors incarcerated from 2003 to 2017, 26 percent were persons of color. A majority of them were immigrants to the U.S. from the Middle East or Iran. The research included checking each doctor on the DEA’s list and looking at their home countries and medical schools.

According to statistics, more than one-quarter (247,000) of the doctors licensed to practice in the U.S. have foreign medical degrees.

But while the proportion of convicted foreign-born medics matches the general proportion of foreign-born doctors in the U.S., some argue that the pain management field attracts large numbers of immigrant physicians because there are fewer barriers to entry, and is often considered to have less status by U.S. doctors.

That makes them especially vulnerable, said Leo Beletsky.

“They’ve stepped into those opportunities—some of them probably because they were discriminated against in other areas of medicine,” he said. “Not unlike men of color who don’t have other job opportunities.”

Which is why Beletsky believes that economics as well as racial bias plays a part in the prosecutions.

“Minorities are probably less likely to have the right lawyers, institutional support or someone who can address the charges brought against them,” he said.

“So they bear the brunt of these criminal investigations (while) other doctors who have the resources might be able to get out.”

Shabnam Datalchian believes her husband faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars because of their naivety about the U.S. justice system.

“It’s much easier for [the government] to go after [immigrants] because they think we don’t have the proper knowledge of the legal system… Which we honestly don’t.” she said.

DEA agents contacted by The Crime Report strongly dispute charges of bias.

“[These are] people who have violated the Controlled Substances Act,” said Melvin Patterson, a special agent and an official spokesperson for the DEA. “We go where the evidence leads us. We could care less what the person looks like or where they are from.”

Patterson said undercover DEA agents make their cases when they go into a suspected clinic and receive opioids without a medical examination.

Dr. Bamdad described the same scenario, but in a different light.

DEA agents came to his office in 2008, posing as patients, and complaining of pain.

Since pain is subjective and there is no real way to prove just how much pain a patient is experiencing, doctors are left with limited options.

They usually chose to believe their patients and prescribe them medication, Dr. Bamdad said.

The Pain Dilemma

Richard A Lawhern, director of research at the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain, who leads a nationwide effort to end the targeting of prescription opioids, argues that the prosecution of individual doctors has no medical justification.

Lawhern has contended, in a series of columns for The Crime Report, that most opioid overdose deaths are not the results of opioids prescribed for chronic pain users.

Richard Lawhern

Richard A. Lawhern

The U.S. is now chasing the “wrong epidemic” in its efforts to reduce the death toll from narcotic drugs, he wrote.

According to Lawhern, the demographic analysis that supposedly connects chronic pain to addiction doesn’t bear up under careful scrutiny.

“The typical new addict is an adolescent or early-20s male with a history of family trauma, mental-health issues and prolonged unemployment,” he said. “Young men from economically depressed areas are rarely treated long-term for pain severe enough to justify use of opioids.”

In contrast, a majority of chronic pain patients (by a ratio of 60/40 or higher) are women in their 40s or older with a history of accident trauma, failed back surgery, fibromyalgia, or facial neuropathy, he said.

“And women of this age whose lives are stable enough to allow them to see a doctor don’t often become addicts.”

Other research supports Lawhern’s claim.

A recent study published in Addiction, the official journal of the Society for Addiction Studies, found that reducing opioid prescriptions has had little effect on reducing overall opioid deaths,

The study, entitled A Crisis of Opioids and the Limits of Prescription Control: United States, argues that the amount of opioids prescribed is not the sole factor leading to the rise in opioid deaths, nor even necessarily the most prominent one.

“No data supports forced opioid reductions as safe or effective,” wrote the study’s authors, Stefan Kertesz of the Birmingham School of Medicine at the University of Alabama; and Adam Gordon, of the University of Utah School of Medicine and Informatics.

The amount of overdose deaths involving prescribed opioids has remained constant since 2010, despite a reduction in the amount of opioids being prescribed. This “lack of return” is grounds for developing a new approach to the crisis, according to the study.

But so far there is little evidence that such an approach is on the drawing boards in Washington.

As the public continues to clamor for action against the opioid epidemic, the government appears to continue using the playbook from the much-criticized “War on Drugs” of the 1980s.

Hardball Tactics

One hardball tactic frequently used in cases against physicians resembles the “flip” tactics used to get suspected co-conspirators to testify against their former comrades in order to receive lighter sentences or get away with no jail time at all. Similar tactics are being used this month in the prosecution of the notorious reputed Mexican narco-boss El Chapo in his trial in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In an opioid prescription case, prosecutors may warn a doctor’s personal assistants or nurses that they will be co-defendants unless they testify against him or her.

That’s what happened to Dr. Bamdad.

He came to the DEA’s attention when a patient overdosed and died from drugs he prescribed. Members of his staff, including secretaries and nurses, were pressured into giving misleading testimony about his activities to avoid prosecution themselves, he claimed.

Dr. Bamdad believes that if the prosecutors had not introduced the evidence of his patient’s death (his patient committed suicide), no rational jury would have convicted him for prescribing what was a legal quantity of Oxycodone for controlling pain.

Shabnam Datalchian, his wife, told The Crime Report that during the trial, one woman admitted the government threatened her with prosecution unless she testified. After Dr. Bamdad’s attorney told the prosecutor, she was released and never testified.

“It’s insane [that he was given a long sentence for helping patients, for prescribing patients with chronic pain,” Shabnam said.

“The doctors don’t know what to do. If they don’t prescribe pills they get in trouble for not treating a patient’s pain problem. But if they do…they might end up like my husband.”

Advocates suggest that a key problem is DEA investigators’ lack of training which would enable them to distinguish a doctor who is overprescribing or diverting drugs from one who has just taken on a lot of patients who take opioids.

“The DEA assumes any patient who is prescribed more than 90 milligrams of morphine daily has been over-prescribed,” Lawhern said. “[But] if you ever have the chance to talk to pain management doctors in practice, you might learn the normal range of a daily dose for pain patients is between 50 and 1,000 milligrams.”

The DEA counters that the law is clear in distinguishing legitimate doctors from those who operate the so-called “pill mills.”

“You can prescribe large amounts of opioids, but the question is, are (you) doing it within the law?” said former DEA agent Jeffrey Higgins.

“There are certain requirements when you’re licensed by DEA to prescribe drugs and part of that is seeing the patient and evaluating the needs of the patient.”

“If you are prescribing without examining patients, that is a violation of the license.”

The legal requirements, he noted, include being seen by a doctor, and being evaluated on their need for pain medication.

What is ‘Legitimate Medical Purpose’?

The difficulty lies in defining the phrase legitimate medical purpose, used under the Controlled Substance Act according to Dr. Cheek.

She gave the example of the trial of Dr. John Patrick Couch in Mobile, Ala., a doctor who was sentenced to 240 months in prison for running a “massive pill mill.”

When the DEA agent was asked during the trial to define “legitimate medical purpose” in pain management, he said he couldn’t answer that question because “he wasn’t a doctor,” Dr Cheek said in an interview.

That captures the principal problem connected with prosecution of pain doctors, she explained, arguing the government is trying to define “legitimate medical purpose” without any expertise.

Similarly, under questioning during Dr. Bamdad’s trial, the lead DEA investigator admitted she only had one hour of training on painkillers and medications.

“That was all her and her associates’ knowledge of medicine! Isn’t it interesting?!” Dr. Bamdad wrote in his email.

In fact, for most pain management doctors, prescribing large amounts of opioids to chronic pain patients is a legitimate medical practice Dr. Nielsen said. Sometimes, the dosages are high, depending upon the amount of patients each doctor sees, she added.

Today, at 64, Dr. Bamdad remains confused and angry, hoping his case will eventually come before the Supreme Court. His lawyer has petitioned for a review on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated by the DEA sting.

He argued in his petition that a physician who “was practicing legitimate pain management based on his licensing agency guidelines” could not be held liable for a violation of the Controlled Substances Act that involved the distribution of controlled substances.

Appeals of his case in California have so far been unsuccessful.

Megan Hadley

Megan Hadley

Dr. Bamdad’s lawyers hold out slim hope that his petition will get anywhere. Nevertheless, he believes that the country he came to as an ambitious young man will live up to the ideals that drew him here.

“You were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t,” Dr. Bamdad wrote in his email.

“I wish I knew about the Department of Justice and DEA criminalizing treating patients with pain; if so, I never would have done it.”

Megan Hadley is senior staff writer and associate editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Has Plea Bargaining Distorted American Justice?

Every day, in the corridors of most U.S. courts, defense attorneys and prosecutors quietly negotiate plea deals in a system of “underground justice” that often shortchanges defendants. In a conversation with TCR about his new book, Texas scholar William Kelly offers an alternative.

About 95 percent of criminal convictions are a result of plea negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys. The process by which these deals are reached constitute a system of “underground justice,” that too often shortchanges defendants—and is overdue for reform.

book coverThat’s the central argument of a new book by William R. Kelly, Ph.D., director of the Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice Research at the University of Texas at Austin, and one of the country’s leading criminologists. The book, “Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform,” was written with U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman.

In a conversation with The Crime Report, Kelly explains how plea bargaining has effectively distorted the notion of equitable justice, why it often leads to recidivism, and offers an innovative alternative to a practice that is more concerned with moving cases quickly than addressing individual issues of defendants. The conversation has been slightly edited for space.

The Crime Report: What is underground justice?

William R. Kelly: That particular reference pertains to plea negotiations, which are not conducted in the light of day. It’s basically conducted through the underground—in prosecutors’ offices, in hallways, and on cellphones.

TCR: You suggest there’s a close connection between the prevalence of plea negotiations and getting tough on crime.

Kelly: The U.S. has had it for many, many, many decades—it’s not something new to the tough- on-crime era. But it played a fundamental role in how we got to where we are today in terms of our focus on criminal conviction and punishment. Plea negotiation is a fast track to criminal conviction and punishment. Punishment is really the currency of plea negotiation. It is what’s being negotiated, whether it’s time in prison, time on probation, etc. It facilitates the growth of tough on crime policies.

TCR: A plea deal is supposed to be a negotiation that satisfies both parties—the prosecution and the defendant—but most times these plea deals aren’t favorable to the defendant. You discussed in the book how even innocent people take plea deals. How does this happen?

Kelly: It happens because there are a variety of strategies commonly used for motivating plea deals: threats of greater punishment, restrictions on evidence, use of tactics during negotiation that might persuade someone to confess to something. The Fifth Amendment basically says confessions are fine as long as they are voluntary, but the courts haven’t been clear about what voluntary means. When someone is threatened with greater punishment, it’s hard to imagine that they feel completely free and open in making a decision.

There are situations—we don’t know how many—where individuals find themselves in a particular situation where the government claims they have certain evidence, and pleading to a crime they didn’t commit may be people’s best option. And again, we don’t know how often this happens because the whole negotiation happens underground. It’s not in the bright light of the courtroom.

TCR: And many defendants aren’t aware of the collateral consequences.

Kelly: This raises a number of issues. One is longer term: what are the consequences of criminal conviction? What are the consequences of being incarcerated? On the other end of that, we know there are phenomenal problems with housing and employment, social services and a whole lot of other things—where someone can live and work.

It also raises issues during the pleas process itself. The majority of individuals in the criminal justice system have at least one mental health problem, and we know that a vast majority of incarcerated people have substance abuse problems. The government is required to prove two things to convict somebody of a crime: One is the criminal act itself, and the other is something referred to as criminal intent.

However, that issue—the criminal intent—is rarely raised during the plea negotiation process. The goal here is to get somebody to confess to a crime. Once that’s done, the process is done. The only thing left to do is decide how much punishment they get. So, it raises issues there about how well can criminal defendants negotiate in a process that requires at least some sense of judgement exercised by the defendant, presumably assisted by adequate counsel. And that raises other issues regarding how much time and resources public defenders have.

TCR: How would our criminal justice system and our prisons look if more defendants rejected plea deals to go to trial instead?

Kelly: We wouldn’t recognize our criminal justice system because it would fall in on itself. We don’t have the resources really. We don’t have the judges, the courtrooms, the staff and the time to really conduct anymore criminal trials. We can play the if game, but the reality is that it can never happen. The vast majority of criminal convictions—misdemeanors and felonies—are plea negotiated. And one of the key reasons for that is that it’s a quick and efficient way to expedite cases. We don’t have the resources to do much else.

But if it did happen, I think we would be looking at harsher punishment for people convicted of crimes.

TCR: Is there a place for plea negotiations in our society?

Kelly: Absolutely. The original intention was that the plea deal should be used when there was no disagreement about the evidence. The whole point was that this was for cases where the evidence is clear and there was no room to argue for innocence. If both parties agree, then why should they waste resources on a trial? That’s what it was designed to do. I think we far exceeded that. Ninety-five percent of all criminal convictions happen in that manner, and I suspect there are concerns with evidence in many of those cases.

TCR: Is there a connection between the prevalence of plea deals and recidivism?

bill kelly

William R. Kelly

Kelly: Yes. The whole point of the book is that we need to take a much closer look at the individuals who are going through the criminal justice system to get a sense of what brings them there in the first place and employ strategies for addressing those issues. Plea negotiations runs in just the opposite direction. It is the fundamental tool for moving many cases as quickly as possible. What that gets us is a primarily punishable-focus set of outcomes that do nothing to reduce recidivism. Plea negotiations certainly promote high recidivism because it’s not designed in the way we currently use it to do anything about it.

TCR: For this project, you interviewed prosecutors. Were you surprised to find that many prosecutors didn’t believe reducing recidivism was their job?

Kelly: Yes and no. I was dumbfounded when I heard it. I certainly expected it because that’s what the system looks like, but the fact that they actually said that—I was shocked. But what they’re concerned with is keeping their heads above their caseload. So, moving as many cases as possible is really the name of the game, and anything that interrupts that is seen as counterproductive.

TCR: You and Robert Pitman proposed having a neutral mediator in the courtroom to help ensure that plea negotiations are fair to both parties. Please explain.

There are two primary policy recommendations. One is procedural- or due process-focused—that’s what the plea mediator focuses on. The other one focuses on recidivism reduction.

We identified a long list of issues, concerns and problems with plea negotiations, many of which draw into question fairness or equity. The state has the upper hand in plea negotiations. The prosecutor lays out the terms of the plea deal, and there’s all kinds of evidentiary issues. There are all kinds of voluntary confession issues. There are representation and access to counsel issues.

So, what we propose is to add another element to the court system, and that’s someone to operate as an independent, neutral third party to oversee the plea negotiation process and whose primary concern is to enhance the due process protection that the constitution and supreme court case law provide to criminal defendants. It might be helpful to have another set of eyes and a voice engaged in the process of plea negotiations, so it’s not just the prosecutor, the defendant and the defense council.

An obvious question is “isn’t that what judges supposed to be doing?” In theory, yes. Judges typically will make sure that plea negotiation was arrived properly, that someone was not promised something in exchange. But judges don’t really have the time to do it all. Their dockets are just as bad as the prosecutors’ casebook. Therefore, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect judges to engage in this plea negotiation process. That’s why we think it’s important to have this third-party set of eyes to oversee the process.

TCR: And who do you recommend for these mediator roles? Could it be an ordinary community member?

Kelly: This would not be a community-member kind of role. It would have to be someone who has expertise in criminal law and criminal procedure because they have to be aware of the issues with plea negotiations. They need to know what a voluntary confession looks like and what is adequate representation and counsel.

TCR: Who’s your audience for this book. Who should read it?

Kelly: The book is for anyone, but particularly for judges, prosecutors, and defense counsels. We talked to them, and they are the ones who are most in a position to change how things are done. The goal of this book is to identify fundamental changes to the criminal justice system, particular to this up-front phase of criminal pretrial proceedings. The whole point here is to examine the roles played by judges, prosecutors, defense counsels and pretrial folks and understand what needs to change among all those parties to reduce victimization, reduce recidivism and save lots of money.

The point I made in all the books I’ve written on this topic is that criminal justice reform is local. We’re talking about roughly 3,100 counties in the U.S, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of local prosecutors who can change how they go about doing business to more effectively reduce recidivism

TCR: As you just mentioned, a lot, if not all, of your books deal with changing the status quo.

Kelly: Not too many people out there believe the criminal justice system is doing a good job. If you look at recidivism rates of 85 percent and the direct loss of billions of dollars each year—no matter what metric you want to use, you really can’t spin this into a positive situation. So, based on that premise, the obvious question is “Where the hell do we go from there?”

There have been efforts focusing on addressing slices of issues within the criminal justice system, like reducing incarceration, etc. I agree with all that, but what we really need to do is take a more holistic approach. And also, the more I wrote about criminal justice reform, the more it became obvious to me that the most important place to invest criminal justice reform resources is at this pretrial stage and particularly in the prosecutor’s office.

Again, plea negotiations are not designed to identify people who have a mental health problem. They are not designed to identify someone who had a traumatic brain injury, neuro-cognitive impairment; and they aren’t designed to address someone who has a substance abuse disorder.

*Simply convicting and sending someone to prison who has a mental health problem will not change that; it will only make it worse. That’s one of the key reasons why we have high recidivism. We don’t really engage in the reasons why people engage in crime. A part of that is because prosecutors are lawyers. They’re not behaviorists. They’re not psychiatrist. They’re not psychologist. They’re lawyers: they know the law and they know caseload demand.

So, in addition to the plea mediator, we propose the concept of the expert panel—psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers who can screen and assess and diagnose individuals when they come through the criminal justice system. This in turn provide prosecutors with much better information so they can decide what to do with a particular individual on a case-by-case basis.

Gabriel Ware

J. Gabriel Ware

TCR: What’s next for you? Do you have any more projects coming out?

Kelly: I have already started a new project. In the last three of four years, we’ve seen the election of reform-oriented or progressive prosecutors—Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Kim Foxx in Chicago, for example. In this next project, I’m interviewing these folks to explore two main questions: what factors play into their election and what happens once they get into office? How do they define reform? How are they implementing change and what kind of barriers do they run into?

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR News Intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Jersey AG Assails ‘Harebrained’ Federal Immigration Policies

In a blunt talk to students and faculty at John Jay College, Gurbir Grewal said state attorneys-general have been critical to the struggle against “harebrained” federal efforts to criminalize immigrants over the past two years. But conservative federal court appointments will make things tougher, he warned.

State attorneys-general across the U.S. have served as a critical check so far on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant initiatives—but their struggle may soon get tougher as federal court vacancies are filled by more conservative judges, an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was told Monday.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s Attorney General, said he hoped the new Democratic majority elected to Congress in last month’s midterms would take up the task as the White House “packs the courts” with new judges closer to its ideological views.

Gurbir Grewal

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

In blunt remarks to faculty and students, Grewal said that state attorneys-general have frequently joined forces in the past two years to battle “harebrained” federal schemes, such as attempting to block visitors from some Muslim countries.

“When the Department of Justice stands down on its obligations, we stand up,” said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed in January by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phillip D. Murphy as the country’s first state attorney general of Sikh heritage.

New Jersey recently sent prosecutors to Texas to successfully battle an attempt in federal court there to repeal the status of “Dreamers”—young people who have been granted leave to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

But, Grewal added, efforts by attorneys-general to fight Trump initiatives in federal court are likely to become more difficult as the administration attempts to fill judicial vacancies at the district or appeal court levels with judges more favorable to its “ideological” point of view.

The hope is that the newly elected Democratic members of the House, who will be a majority when they take office in January, can act as a more effective brake on government initiatives and, in particular, counter the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, Grewal said.

“We have seen a president who has pitted communities against each other, put children in cages, demeaned the humanity (of immigrants)” by referring to them as thugs, and helped foster an atmosphere in which “bias and hate” could flourish, he said.

But Grewal also pointed out that he, like other state attorneys-general, was already moving from battling against the government to developing positive initiatives.

“We can start building models of what good government looks like,” he said, pointing to recent initiatives such as the Immigrant Trust Directive, announced last week, which ordered New Jersey law enforcement agencies to limit cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Grewal has also promised major reforms in police training, including violence de-escalation tactics, following a New Jersey newspaper investigation that uncovered a pattern of questionable use-of-force incidents by state law enforcement over the past five years.

See also: NJ Attorney General Grewal Promises ‘Wholesale Reform’ on Police Use of Force. 

The son of South Asian immigrants, Grewal says he takes the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally, having been the target of racist rhetoric during his legal career.

He recalled going into his law offices in Washington after the September 11th, 2001 attacks while a homeless man shouted “I found Bin Laden,” whenever Grewal walked by.

“I grew up in this country…and I checked every box. I was a soccer (dad), I drove a minivan,” he said to laughter.

“But I woke up one day to feel completely un-American.”

Lingering stereotypes of immigrants motivated his own career choices, Grewal said.

Grewal told the students that he had entered public service, after first considering a diplomatic career, to change people’s perceptions of him and others who looked like him.

Grewal, who served as prosecutor of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, under then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie, developed programs designed to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, such as “Operation Helping Hand,”which offers low-level drug offenders treatment options upon arrest.

Earlier, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and later, in New Jersey, Grewal led the successful prosecution of 12 men charged with providing material support to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group, and the prosecution of major white collar and fraud cases.

The new rules under the Immigrant Trust Directive go into affect March 2019. They include:

For New Jersey Police Officers

  • Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation.
  • Cannot participate in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement operations.
  • Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property.

For New Jersey Correctional Officers 

  • Cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges, unless the detainee is advised of his or her right to a lawyer and signs a written consent form.
  • Cannot continue to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions,

For New Jersey Prosecutors 

  • Cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
  • Cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Jersey AG Assails ‘Harebrained’ Federal Immigration Policies

In a blunt talk to students and faculty at John Jay College, Gurbir Grewal said state attorneys-general have been critical to the struggle against “harebrained” federal efforts to criminalize immigrants over the past two years. But conservative federal court appointments will make things tougher, he warned.

State attorneys-general across the U.S. have served as a critical check so far on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant initiatives—but their struggle may soon get tougher as federal court vacancies are filled by more conservative judges, an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was told Monday.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s Attorney General, said he hoped the new Democratic majority elected to Congress in last month’s midterms would take up the task as the White House “packs the courts” with new judges closer to its ideological views.

Gurbir Grewal

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

In blunt remarks to faculty and students, Grewal said that state attorneys-general have frequently joined forces in the past two years to battle “harebrained” federal schemes, such as attempting to block visitors from some Muslim countries.

“When the Department of Justice stands down on its obligations, we stand up,” said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed in January by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phillip D. Murphy as the country’s first state attorney general of Sikh heritage.

New Jersey recently sent prosecutors to Texas to successfully battle an attempt in federal court there to repeal the status of “Dreamers”—young people who have been granted leave to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

But, Grewal added, efforts by attorneys-general to fight Trump initiatives in federal court are likely to become more difficult as the administration attempts to fill judicial vacancies at the district or appeal court levels with judges more favorable to its “ideological” point of view.

The hope is that the newly elected Democratic members of the House, who will be a majority when they take office in January, can act as a more effective brake on government initiatives and, in particular, counter the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, Grewal said.

“We have seen a president who has pitted communities against each other, put children in cages, demeaned the humanity (of immigrants)” by referring to them as thugs, and helped foster an atmosphere in which “bias and hate” could flourish, he said.

But Grewal also pointed out that he, like other state attorneys-general, was already moving from battling against the government to developing positive initiatives.

“We can start building models of what good government looks like,” he said, pointing to recent initiatives such as the Immigrant Trust Directive, announced last week, which ordered New Jersey law enforcement agencies to limit cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Grewal has also promised major reforms in police training, including violence de-escalation tactics, following a New Jersey newspaper investigation that uncovered a pattern of questionable use-of-force incidents by state law enforcement over the past five years.

See also: NJ Attorney General Grewal Promises ‘Wholesale Reform’ on Police Use of Force. 

The son of South Asian immigrants, Grewal says he takes the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally, having been the target of racist rhetoric during his legal career.

He recalled going into his law offices in Washington after the September 11th, 2001 attacks while a homeless man shouted “I found Bin Laden,” whenever Grewal walked by.

“I grew up in this country…and I checked every box. I was a soccer (dad), I drove a minivan,” he said to laughter.

“But I woke up one day to feel completely un-American.”

Lingering stereotypes of immigrants motivated his own career choices, Grewal said.

Grewal told the students that he had entered public service, after first considering a diplomatic career, to change people’s perceptions of him and others who looked like him.

Grewal, who served as prosecutor of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, under then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie, developed programs designed to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, such as “Operation Helping Hand,”which offers low-level drug offenders treatment options upon arrest.

Earlier, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and later, in New Jersey, Grewal led the successful prosecution of 12 men charged with providing material support to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group, and the prosecution of major white collar and fraud cases.

The new rules under the Immigrant Trust Directive go into affect March 2019. They include:

For New Jersey Police Officers

  • Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation.
  • Cannot participate in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement operations.
  • Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property.

For New Jersey Correctional Officers 

  • Cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges, unless the detainee is advised of his or her right to a lawyer and signs a written consent form.
  • Cannot continue to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions,

For New Jersey Prosecutors 

  • Cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
  • Cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

Conservative Judges Imperil Fight Against Trump Immigrant Policies: New Jersey AG

In a blunt talk to students and faculty at John Jay College, Gurbir Grewal said state attorneys-general have been critical to the struggle against “harebrained” federal efforts to criminalize immigrants over the past two years. But conservative federal court appointments will make things tougher, he warned.

State attorneys-general across the U.S. have served as a critical check so far on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant initiatives—but their struggle may soon get tougher as federal court vacancies are filled by more conservative judges, an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was told Monday.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s Attorney General, said he hoped the new Democratic majority elected to Congress in last month’s midterms would take up the task as the White House “packs the courts” with new judges closer to its ideological views.

Gurbir Grewal

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

In blunt remarks to faculty and students, Grewal said that state attorneys-general have frequently joined forces in the past two years to battle “harebrained” federal schemes, such as attempting to block visitors from some Muslim countries.

“When the Department of Justice stands down on its obligations, we stand up,” said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed in January by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phillip D. Murphy as the country’s first state attorney general of Sikh heritage.

New Jersey recently sent prosecutors to Texas to successfully battle an attempt in federal court there to repeal the status of “Dreamers”—young people who have been granted leave to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

But, Grewal added, efforts by attorneys-general to fight Trump initiatives in federal court are likely to become more difficult as the administration attempts to fill judicial vacancies at the district or appeal court levels with judges more favorable to its “ideological” point of view.

The hope is that the newly elected Democratic members of the House, who will be a majority when they take office in January, can act as a more effective brake on government initiatives and, in particular, counter the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, Grewal said.

“We have seen a president who has pitted communities against each other, put children in cages, demeaned the humanity (of immigrants)” by referring to them as thugs, and helped foster an atmosphere in which “bias and hate” could flourish, he said.

But Grewal also pointed out that he, like other state attorneys-general, was already moving from battling against the government to developing positive initiatives.

“We can start building models of what good government looks like,” he said, pointing to recent initiatives such as the Immigrant Trust Directive, announced last week, which ordered New Jersey law enforcement agencies to limit cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Grewal has also promised major reforms in police training, including violence de-escalation tactics, following a New Jersey newspaper investigation that uncovered a pattern of questionable use-of-force incidents by state law enforcement over the past five years.

See also: NJ Attorney General Grewal Promises ‘Wholesale Reform’ on Police Use of Force. 

The son of South Asian immigrants, Grewal says he takes the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally, having been the target of racist rhetoric during his legal career.

He recalled going into his law offices in Washington after the September 11th, 2001 attacks while a homeless man shouted “I found Bin Laden,” whenever Grewal walked by.

“I grew up in this country…and I checked every box. I was a soccer (dad), I drove a minivan,” he said to laughter.

“But I woke up one day to feel completely un-American.”

Lingering stereotypes of immigrants motivated his own career choices, Grewal said.

Grewal told the students that he had entered public service, after first considering a diplomatic career, to change people’s perceptions of him and others who looked like him.

Grewal, who served as prosecutor of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, under then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie, developed programs designed to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, such as “Operation Helping Hand,”which offers low-level drug offenders treatment options upon arrest.

Earlier, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and later, in New Jersey, Grewal led the successful prosecution of 12 men charged with providing material support to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group, and the prosecution of major white collar and fraud cases.

The new rules under the Immigrant Trust Directive go into affect March 2019. They include:

For New Jersey Police Officers

  • Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation.
  • Cannot participate in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement operations.
  • Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property.

For New Jersey Correctional Officers 

  • Cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges, unless the detainee is advised of his or her right to a lawyer and signs a written consent form.
  • Cannot continue to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions,

For New Jersey Prosecutors 

  • Cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
  • Cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Crime Victim Research Center Aims to Fill Gaps in Data

The new agency created by three Washington DC organizations is designed to collect and promote research on victims. Congressional staff members handling justice issues want more than anecdotes about victims, asking, “Where are the data?”

To fill a gap in research on crime victims in the United States, a Center for Victim Research has been launched by three Washington, D.C.-based organizations, the Justice Research and Statistics Association, the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Urban Institute.

Crime victims are one of the relatively under-researched areas in criminal justice, Susan Howley, the project director, told the American Society of Criminology’s annual convention in Atlanta on Thursday.

She observed that some congressional staff members who handle justice issues have grown tired of hearing only anecdotes from and about victims, and increasingly are demanding to know “where are the data?”

The new center’s website includes a growing library of research on victim-related subjects, and the project is encouraging criminologists to do more work in the victim area. As an example of the center’s early work, it distributed a research paper on “homicide co-victimization.”

It declares that about one in ten Americans will lose a loved one to homicide during their lifetime,” and says that there are few services that address the needs of homicide “co-victims,” and even fewer have been evaluated.

The new effort is funded by the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime.

In recent years, Congress has made much more money available for programs that assist crime victims and their survivors from a fund set up for that purpose in the 1980s that is comprised of criminal fines paid to federal courts. The center is offering a webinar Nov. 27 on its new programs; details are available on its website.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Crime Victim Research Center Aims to Fill Gaps in Data

The new agency created by three Washington DC organizations is designed to collect and promote research on victims. Congressional staff members handling justice issues want more than anecdotes about victims, asking, “Where are the data?”

To fill a gap in research on crime victims in the United States, a Center for Victim Research has been launched by three Washington, D.C.-based organizations, the Justice Research and Statistics Association, the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Urban Institute.

Crime victims are one of the relatively under-researched areas in criminal justice, Susan Howley, the project director, told the American Society of Criminology’s annual convention in Atlanta on Thursday.

She observed that some congressional staff members who handle justice issues have grown tired of hearing only anecdotes from and about victims, and increasingly are demanding to know “where are the data?”

The new center’s website includes a growing library of research on victim-related subjects, and the project is encouraging criminologists to do more work in the victim area. As an example of the center’s early work, it distributed a research paper on “homicide co-victimization.”

It declares that about one in ten Americans will lose a loved one to homicide during their lifetime,” and says that there are few services that address the needs of homicide “co-victims,” and even fewer have been evaluated.

The new effort is funded by the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime.

In recent years, Congress has made much more money available for programs that assist crime victims and their survivors from a fund set up for that purpose in the 1980s that is comprised of criminal fines paid to federal courts. The center is offering a webinar Nov. 27 on its new programs; details are available on its website.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Laissez-Faire Racism’ Remains Core of Justice System, Conference Told

The victories of the Civil Rights era have been undermined by the systemic bias that perpetuates mass incarceration and the unequal treatment by courts, police and corrections of people of color, two prominent scholars told the American Society of Criminology Thursday.

The victories of the Civil Rights era have been undermined by a “laissez-faire racism” that continues the historic criminalization of people of color, an American Society of Criminology (ASC) panel was told Thursday.

Lawrence D. Bobo, dean of Social Science at Harvard University, said the rhetoric used by President Donald Trump and his supporters during the recent midterm election campaign to warn of a so-called invasion by Central American “criminals” was the most recent example of the prejudice that continues to distort American justice.

“Racial inequalities have morphed into a new modern era of laissez-faire racism,” which is no longer tied to the institutional racism that once infected education, employment, politics and other areas of American life and has since been outlawed by civil rights legislation, said Bobo, the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard.

Bobo

Lawrence D. Bobo, dean of Social Science, Harvard. Courtesy Wikipedia

He was speaking to a packed plenary session at the annual ASC conference, attended by justice practitioners, students and researchers from throughout the U.S. and abroad.

“American culture is deeply disfigured by white supremacists,” he said at the Atlanta meeting, noting that the tough-on-crime strategies of recent years which disproportionately affected Americans of color had been supported by politicians of both parties.

Bobo welcomed Trump’s long-awaited endorsement this week of a bipartisan justice reform bill that would reduce sentences for some federal offenders, but he said the nation’s leaders needed to move from tinkering with reforms to a system-wide effort to remove the racial biases and inequalities that have long been a critical part of crime control.

“We’re in a fluid moment,” he said.

Bobo observed that even though incarceration was at a 26-year-low and crime rates were declining, disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos remained under the purview of the justice system.

His bleak assessment was underlined by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Heather A. Thompson of the University of Michigan, who told the audience that white supremacist views were “baked into the DNA” of American life and politics.

Thompson

Heather A. Thompson, winner of 2017 Pulitzer Prize in History

According to Thompson, it was “whites’ drive to maintain power” over nonwhite populations⸺particularly Native Americans and freed slaves⸺that “determined the high rate of criminalization” of those groups.

“There are huge lessons to be reckoned with” from two centuries of U.S. history during which “people of color have always been associated by whites as sources of trouble and disorder,” she said.

Echoing the views of Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” Thompson said the end of slavery forced white leaders to use police and other parts of the justice system to reduce any political competition from African Americans that would challenge their power.

“Racism and disproportionality are not a byproduct of our criminal justice system,” she said. “[They] are core and fundamental to that system.”

Thompson won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.”

Stephen Handelman is executive editor of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org