Some Police Chiefs Oppose DOJ’s Oversight Cutback

Some police chiefs, even in areas that supported Donald Trump for president, support the Justice Department’s “collaborative reform initiative” that advises local police departments. The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, helped trim it back.

When the Justice Department said it would significantly scale back its collaborative reform initiative to monitor local police departments and reorient it toward more hands-off “technical assistance,” the decision reflected the Trump administration’s approach to law enforcement: crack down on violent crime, don’t regulate the police departments that fight it. The changes have encountered some resistance from police chiefs in cities that participated, the New York Times reports. Those chiefs work not only in big-city Democratic strongholds, but also in places like Spokane, Wa., which has a Republican mayor and in a county that voted overwhelmingly for  Trump. Under Trump, the Justice Department has not entered into a single court-monitored consent decree with a troubled police department. It has also ordered reviews of existing consent decrees, which are a tougher, more punitive alternative to the collaborative reform initiative.

Some chiefs called the new direction out of step with a growing consensus that rebuilding community trust is essential to fighting crime, particularly after high-profile police shootings led to a national debate on policing. The Justice Department says some police departments complained that the program was too aggressive and produced wide-ranging reports that contained errors. The Fraternal Order of Police helped lay the foundation for the administration’s action, opposing what it calls federal meddling in the affairs of local police. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not named a director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which operates the collaborative reform program. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan asked COPS to review his department after an officer shot an unarmed man. Without a new leader, the office delayed his request. “Everything is on hold, and that’s not a good place to be in,” said Jordan, who is making his own community policing changes. “We’re kind of frustrated by the fact that we’re having trouble getting decisions.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Awards $98M For Community Police Hiring

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that 80 percent of the grantees had agreed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in their detention facilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice has awarded $98,495,397 to 179 law enforcement agencies to hire 802 officers under the  Community Oriented Policing Services COPS Hiring Program, the department announced. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that 80 percent of the grantees had agreed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in their detention facilities. Chicago received the same $3.125 million as it did last year despite not cooperating with federal authorities on immigration.

In September, DOJ said that applicants would receive additional points in the application scoring process by certifying their willingness to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in their detention facilities. Cooperation may include providing access to detention facilities for interviews of aliens in the jurisdiction’s custody and providing advance notice of an alien’s release from custody. The COPS office awards grants to hire community policing officers, develop and test innovative policing strategies, and provide training and technical assistance to community residents, local government leaders, and all levels of law enforcement. Since 1994, COPS has invested more than $14 billion to help advance community policing.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Grotesque’: DOJ Vets React to Prospect of Clinton Probe

Current and former Justice Department officials are alarmed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton. “To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former DOJ special counsel.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton has alarmed current and former Justice Department officials who fear he will further politicize the embattled agency, says the Washington Post. Sessions said at a congressional hearing Tuesday that he will weigh recommendations from senior prosecutors on whether to appoint a special counsel over a 2010 uranium company deal and other issues, including donations to the Clinton Foundation. Such an appointment could give President Trump and Republicans a political counterweight to the ongoing work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing whether any Trump associates coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in last year’s presidential election.

For that reason, Sessions’s suggestion has raised fresh questions about the independence of the Justice Department in the Trump administration. “To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former special counsel who investigated the FBI’s role in a violent standoff with a cult in Waco, Tex. “The proliferation of special counsels in a political setting is very, very bad.”  Peter R. Zeidenberg, who once served as deputy special counsel in the probe of former White House aide Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, said “the best-case scenario” is that the attorney general is trying simply to mollify an angry president and doesn’t really plan to name a special counsel. If one is appointed to probe Clinton matters, “I think the vast majority of people at DOJ would be completely disgusted and demoralized by it,’’ said Zeidenberg. “They don’t like feeling that they are political tools to be used by the president.’’

from https://thecrimereport.org

Rosenstein: DOJ Goal ‘Not to Fill Prisons’

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t stray much from the Trump administration’s tough-on-crime rhetoric, but he described as “worthy” efforts to fight crime with “solutions … apart from prosecution and incarceration.”

The U.S. Justice Department under the Trump administration will continue to support programs “that keep people from entering the criminal justice system,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein promised Tuesday.

“Our goal is not to fill prisons,” Rosenstein told the concluding session of the 50-State Summit on Public Safety in Washington, D.C. “It is to prevent crime.”

Rosenstein’s statement was the closest he came to endorsing a major purpose of the two-day gathering, to advise states on ways to reduce incarceration without increasing crime.

The summit, sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators, was attended by corrections administrators, police chiefs, health authorities and other officials from all 50 states.

Rosenstein’s comment was notable because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has echoed President Trump’s “tough on crime” rhetoric and, as a senator, opposed a bill that would reduce some mandatory prison sentences.

Rosenstein’s address covered a wide range of subjects, including the threat of terrorism and the opioid crisis, but mainly did not address the primary subjects of the summit.

However, he did acknowledge that many of the summit participants “work to find solutions to crime apart from prosecution and incarceration,” which Rosenstein called “a worthy goal.”

He pointed to programs begun by past administrations, such as Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Second Chance Act, as praiseworthy efforts to lower prison populations and assist prisoner reentry.

But he also echoed the hardline approach by Sessions and Trump to rising violence in many cities, and what he called a “troubling” 20 percent increase in the national murder rate over the last two years.

“If crime is falling in your jurisdiction, I offer my congratulations,” he said. “Keep right on doing what you are doing.

“But if crime is rising, now is the time to change to a strategy that works.”

The Justice Department will give money to as many as 25 states to hold similar conferences on their own crime and justice problems.

See also: “Public Safety Summit Draws Officials From 50 States” (TCR Nov. 14, 2017)

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Manafort Case Points to Lax Foreign Agent Enforcement

The indictment likely means that the requirements of the Foreign Agents Registration Act will finally be taken seriously by the hundreds of law firms, lobbying shops and media relations companies that fall under its purview.

Underpinning the 12-count indictment against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his colleague Rick Gates are facts demonstrating willful and knowing violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA.) The indictment likely means that after many years of lax enforcement, the requirements of this law will finally be taken seriously by the hundreds of law firms, lobbying shops and media relations companies that fall under its purview, Politico reports. Enacted in the 1930s to expose Nazi propagandists working secretly in the United States, FARA requires that any individual or organization that undertakes “political activities” for a foreign client must register with the Department of Justice and disclose significant amounts of information about the work done for that foreign client and the money earned and expended. Registration is triggered by a broad range of activity not thought of as traditional lobbying, such as strategic advice, coalition-building, grassroots lobbying, communications advice and attempts to influence U.S. media and opinion-makers. Willful and knowing violations of FARA can lead to criminal and civil penalties.

It has been an open secret that many U.S. advisers and influence-peddlers working for foreign government entities have not registered under FARA. The DOJ FARA Registration Unit has encouraged “voluntary” compliance with FARA rather than prosecution. There have been only eight criminal indictments for FARA violations since the 1960s. Last year, DOJ’s Inspector General noted a disconnect between the FARA office and the FBI on the applicability and scope of the law. The IG said the FARA office had just eight employees, only three of whom were attorneys, and that a significant number of registrations and required disclosures were late and likely deficient. DOJ “should develop a comprehensive enforcement strategy for FARA that fits within its overall national security effort,” the IG said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sanctuary City Dispute Delays Federal Crime Grants

Court battles apparently are holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in Justice Department payments. “This is going on in every state in the country. The reddest of red states, you know, Mississippi, Alabama, they’re having the same problem,” says Connecticut criminal justice chief Mike Lawlor.

States rely on federal anticrime grants for a variety of expenses, including training, equipment, and police personnel. So far there have been no payments under the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), which usually are disbursed by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, reports NPR. Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning in Connecticut, says the delay is unusual and unexplained. Last year Connecticut received about $2.6 million in JAG grants. “Every single state gets one of these grants and this year not a single state has gotten it and we have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice what’s going on,” Lawlor said. “They consistently can’t or won’t answer the question … We assume it’s because they have concerns about sanctuary cities around the country.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the Justice Department would withhold federal crime-fighting dollars from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration. That has been challenged in the courts. A federal judge in Chicago granted a preliminary injunction that stopped the DOJ from withholding funds to sanctuary cities. States have not even been notified of the grant award, which usually happens around April or May, said Lawlor, who added, “This is going on in every state in the country. The reddest of red states, you know, Mississippi, Alabama, they’re having the same problem.” New Haven, Ct., Police Chief Anthony Campbell said that by withholding funds the Department of Justice is trying to pressure local police departments into doing the work of another federal agency. Campbell said funding from grants like Byrne JAG has enabled New Haven to reduce its crime rate, in part, through community policing.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Sharply Cuts Scope of Memphis Police Pact

An agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Memphis Police Department  mentioned use of force procedures, training about bias and a commitment to public transparency, but in a new memorandum that language is gone under the regime of Attorney General Jeff Sessions,

An agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Memphis Police Department mentioned use of force procedures, training about bias and a commitment to public transparency, but in a new memorandum that language is gone, reports the USA Today Network Tennessee. The new memo signed this month replaces the agreement made earlier this year and comes after the DOJ’s announcement in September of changes to reform initiatives with local law enforcement nationally. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in March that all DOJ activities would be reviewed.

The new, shorter memo asks that the police department provide access to relevant department records and data “as appropriate and needed” and includes plans for the DOJ to provide the agency with unspecified “technical assistance resources.” It no longer references officer involved shootings or racial profiling. Earle Fisher, pastor of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, said the memo is watered down and “mostly bark and little to no bite.” Attorney Murray Wells, who represents the father of Darrius Stewart, the 19-year-old killed by former Memphis police Officer Connor Schilling in 2015, said the new memo fails to address specific training and how the public can access reports and findings. “It appears to me to be a quick shut down,” he said. Memphis spokeswoman Ursula Madden said the city does not determine or set priorities for the DOJ. “All changes made to the (memorandum) were initiated by the DOJ at its sole discretion,” she said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DOJ Orders More Transparency In Tech Data Cases

The Justice Department issued guidelines aimed at providing more transparency around prosecutors’ secret demands for customer data stored on tech firms’ servers. The guidance approved by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ends the routine imposition of gag orders barring companies from telling customers their email or other records have been turned over in response to legal demands.

The Justice Department has issued new guidelines aimed at providing more transparency around prosecutors’ secret demands for customer data stored on tech firms’ servers. The guidance approved by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ends the routine imposition of gag orders barring companies from telling customers their email or other records have been turned over in response to legal demands, the Washington Post reports. It also bans — in most cases — indefinite gag orders that forbid a company from ever telling users their data have been searched.

The move was made a year and a half after Microsoft sued the department, asking a federal judge in Seattle to strike down portions of a major privacy law that govern the secrecy orders. The tech giant argued that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act violated customers’ Fourth Amendment right that a search be reasonable because it did not require the government to notify them when their records were obtained. The company argued that the law’s gag-order provision violated the company’s First Amendment right to talk to its customers. The new guidance requires prosecutors to tailor applications for secrecy orders to ensure that they are necessary, and explain why. For instance, a prosecutor might fear that the target will destroy data if he or she learns of the probe. Or the target might try to flee. The assessment must be “individualized and meaningful.” The Post says the change “is a recognition that privacy laws passed in the 1980s have not kept up with the advent of cloud computing in which people, at the press of a button, create and store data in servers that they do not control.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

In Feds’ Juvenile Justice Agency, ‘Reform’ is a Four-Letter Word

The Trump-era Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has issued employees a page with a dozen items of “language guidance” — a table listing “language to avoid” and “language options to use instead.” Among the disfavored words and phrases: reform, summit, and underserved youth.

Don’t look for “reform” in the Trump administration’s Justice Department, at least in the language used by its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The agency has issued employees a page with a dozen items of “language guidance” — a table listing “language to avoid” and “language options to use instead” — now that the new administration is overhauling many of the programs and practices of the Obama presidency.

It’s no secret that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anticrime priorities differ from those of his predecessors.

What has not been obvious until now is that at least in one part of the sprawling Department of Justice (DOJ), there has been a broad shift in the way DOJ employees are supposed to talk about what their agency is doing.

Take the word “reform,” an admittedly imprecise term that is widely used in the criminal justice field to discuss modernization of justice practices.

The guidance issued by the Trump administration says the juvenile delinquency agency, which is known by its initials OJJDP, is to avoid “reform (in the context of juvenile justice)” and instead use “improvement (or similar rewording).”

Similarly, the department is not using the term “summit” to describe gatherings to discuss criminal justice issues. Rather, employees are told to refer to “conference, meeting, etc.”

The Trump Justice Department, perhaps not surprisingly, doesn’t want to talk about the “Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative,” which, according to an Obama-era press release, was started in 2014 as part of a “comprehensive review of the criminal justice system to identify and implement reforms to ensure federal laws are enforced fairly and efficiently.”

Instead, employees are told to talking about the program “generally as system improvement work.”

Among other items on the list, employees are told to avoid talking about “underserved youth” and instead should refer to “all youth,” to avoid “substance abuse disorder” and use “substance abuse issue,” and to avoid the phrase “overrepresentation of minorities (in the juvenile justice system” and refer to “disproportionate minority contact.”

The new administration doesn’t want to call crime problems a “public health issue” or “public health concern,” preferring the simpler descriptions “public issue” or “public concern.”

While it is common for a new presidential administration to stop calling attention to initiatives started under the previous presidency, the rationale for all of the Trump administration’s guidance for the juvenile crime agency was not clear.

That is because the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, where OJJDP is located, declined to talk about it. A spokesperson would say only that the guidance was an “internal document.”

The agency gives out many grants to outside organizations, but it was not clear whether the language guidance was provided to all grantees. Some of them have it, which is how The Crime Report obtained it. It also was not obvious whether other units within DOJ were given similar instructions.

Some non-government juvenile justice organizations that have seen the guidance expressed dismay.

For example, one item in the guidance sheet advises staff members to avoid using the terms “system-involved or justice-involved youth,” instead referring to “youth in the system,” “offender” or “at-risk youth.”

Marcy Mistrett of the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group in the field, said, “We are concerned about [the language guidance] and the changing direction of the agency.”

Mistrett said the law creating the juvenile justice agency “is clear, as is the department’s mandate to serve all justice-involved youth.” Her group works to end prosecuting youths under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.

Referring to another item in the language list, the avoidance of talking about “overrepresentation of minorities,” Naomi Smoot, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ), a non-profit advocacy group, said, “Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we can do this work in any genuine sort of way and ignore the fact that young people of color are over represented at nearly every point of contact with the justice system.”

She added that, “CJJ has been, and will remain committed to, combating disproportionate minority contact within our justice systems.”

Former OJJDP head Robert Listenbee. Photo by David Kindler via Flickr

In the last half of the Obama administration, OJJDP was headed by Robert L. Listenbee, Jr., a former juvenile public defender in Philadelphia who had co-chaired then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.

The Trump administration has not appointed an administrator of the agency. Since Trump took office, it has been headed by Eileen M. Garry, a career employee who joined ODDJP in 1995, and then served between 2001 and 2016 in another DOJ agency, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, before rejoining OJJDP last year.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Interviews U.S. Attorney Candidates in NYC

The White House defends the talks. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Politico. “For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference.”

President Trump has personally interviewed at least two potential candidates for U.S. attorney positions in New York, a move that critics say raises questions about whether they can be sufficiently independent from the president, reports Politico. Trump  interviewed Geoffrey Berman of the law firm Greenberg Traurig for the job of U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Ed McNally of Kasowitz Benson Torres for the Eastern District post, sources said. A White House official noted that, “he and other presidents before him and after may talk to individuals nominated to positions within the executive branch.”

The Southern District of New York has jurisdiction over Trump Tower. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney there, tweeted that, “It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for U.S. Attorney positions, especially the one in Manhattan.” It is rare for a president to interview candidates for the 93 U.S. attorney jobs. Former President Obama never interviewed a U.S. attorney candidate during his two terms, said Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman in the Obama administration. Trump met with Jessie Liu, then a candidate for U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, a position she now holds, this spring. “To be very blunt, these three jurisdictions will have authority to bring indictments over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians and potential obstruction of justice by the president of the United States,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Politico. “For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference.”

from https://thecrimereport.org