Top Lawmaker: I’ll Fight Trump Police Cuts ‘Tooth and Nail’

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, says the Trump plan to downgrade the Community Oriented Policing Services Office is an “odd way…to show support for the brave men and women in blue who rely on the office and grants to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

The co-chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus has criticized a Trump Administration proposal to downgrade the U.S. Justice Department’s 24-year-old Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office.

In its budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 that was sent to Congress on Monday, the White House said it planned to fold the COPS agency into DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and asked Congress to reduce the unit’s budget drastically, from about $137 last year million to $64 million next year for police hiring

Cong. Bill Pascrell, Jr.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) said, “Eliminating the COPS Office and slashing funding for the COPS Hiring Program grants in half is an odd way for President Trump to show support for the brave men and women in blue who rely on the office and grants to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

Pascrell noted that 135 House members signed a letter drafted by Pascrell with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) urging Trump to keep COPS an independent agency with DOJ and to maintain its funding. “I will fight these cuts tooth and nail to ensure they do not happen.”

The Justice Department portrayed the plan as an efficiency move, saying that having another agency administer policing grants along with a long list of other federal aid already being dispensed could allow for the elimination of more than 200 jobs in the department, including about one-third of the COPS Office staff.

DOJ contended that the change would “centralize and strengthen the partnerships [the department] has with its colleagues in State and Local law enforcement and to promote community policing not only through its hiring programs but also through the advancement of strategies for policing innovations and other innovative crime-fighting techniques.”

Because Congress this past weekend approved a two-year federal budget, it will now be up to appropriations committees in each house to recommend specific spending amounts for all government programs. Lawmakers may decide to block the plan to slash the COPS program, although they will be under pressure to make budget cuts governmentwide.

Women’s advocacy groups are expected to oppose another section of the DOJ budget that would also transfer grantmaking from the Office on Violence Against Women to the Office of Justice Programs, but only three jobs in the women’s office would be lost, and the annual grant total would rise slightly, to $486 million.

The Justice Department budget proposal reflects Trump administration priorities of fighting the opioid epidemic, combatting violent crime and drug trafficking gangs and providing tough immigration enforcement.

It seeks more than $109 million for local crime-fighting efforts, including $70 million for a partnership with state and local authorities called Project Safe Neighborhoods that targets gun offenders, the Associated Press reports.

Project Safe Neighborhoods, a partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ offices, “would be dramatically increased … from $6.5 million,” says the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA).

The budget proposal would move the tobacco and alcohol-related responsibilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into the Treasury Department, which officials say would eliminate duplicative work and would allow the agency to focus more closely on fighting street crime.

DOJ is asking for $13.2 million and 25 new positions to help “modernize” and speed up the ATF’s ability to register restricted weapons, such as machine guns and suppressors, after a steady increase in applications.

The antidrug budget includes a proposed $31.2 million for eight new “heroin enforcement groups” to be sent to hard-hit Drug Enforcement Administration offices. Additional agents would target Mexican drug gangs.

The proposal requetsts $39.8 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts and is experiencing a backlog of immigration cases. That would include 75 new immigration judges and additional attorneys. The administration wants $25 million for a technological boost for the office, which it says still struggles with a “wholly paper-based system that is both cumbersome and inefficient.”

DOJ also would limit annual expenditures from its Crime Victim Fund to $2.3 billion. The fund was created by Congress in 1984 and is comprised largely of fines paid in federal criminal cases. The fines include huge payments by companies in some major white-collar-crime cases. The fund has amassed more than $12 billion over the years, only a small fraction of which Congress allows to be spent on crime victim aid each year.

The Trump administration is proposing that some of the crime victim fund be used for other purposes, such as projects to reduce violence against women and for grants to fight juvenile crime.

Crime victim advocates may oppose oppose changes in the fund that would divert money intended to aid victims indefinitely to other programs.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcomed.


Trump Budget Seeks $13B for Opioids, $23B for Border

The White House budget proposal to Congress for the next fiscal year includes a large sum aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic and an even-larger amount for border security and immigration enforcement, including the southern border wall.

The Trump administration is seeking $13 billion in opioid-related spending in its budget proposal Monday for fiscal year 2019. The White House says it will ask Congress for $3 billion in new funding this year and $10 billion in new funding 2019 in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for a total of $13 billion in funding to combat the opioid epidemic by expanding access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services, as well as support for mental health.

Critics have said that the president and his advisers have spoken out about the drug overdose epidemic but have not matched their rhetoric with spending. Last week, Congress added $6 billion in federal expenditures on opioids in a two-year budget deal, which means, the Associated Press says, that the Trump budget plan “is dead even before arrival” on Capitol Hill.

The new budget proposal seeks more than $23 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, which the White House says includes “the investments necessary to construct physical infrastructure, improve technology, and increase personnel, resources, and authorities on the ground.”

The budget request includes $782 million to hire and support 2,750 additional law enforcement officers and agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and provides $2.7 billion to pay for an average daily detention capacity of 52,000 illegal aliens at ICE, the agency’s highest-ever detention level. The administration wants $18 billion across fiscal years 2018 and 2019 to build the southern border wall, which has been opposed by many in Congress.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.


Will Trump Try to Downgrade the COPS Office?

The independent Community Oriented Policing Services office, created in 1994 to assist local law enforcement, may be folded inside a DOJ division as part of a White House efficiency drive. In a letter supported by major police groups, 135 Congress members said the move could threaten communities “struggling” to pay for public safety.

President Donald Trump insists that he is a solid supporter of the nation’s police officers, but that backing may not count for much when it comes to the federal agency set up to aid local police departments.

When the White House next Monday proposes its federal spending plan for the year starting Oct. 1, Washington insiders who have talked to officials at the Justice Department anticipate that the plan will include ending the COPS Office’s more than two-decade-long run of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office as an independent agency in the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Instead, COPS would be placed within the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and its grant-making authority would be given to an agency that long has awarded a wide variety of funds to state and local governments, the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

It’s possible that the White House Office of Management and Budget also will seek to end the independence of another DOJ agency, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Such a move is less likely because the agency was created by law and would require congressional action to change. It also would provoke anger from women’s advocates.

Although the COPS program was created in a major federal anticrime law in 1994 after President Bill Clinton campaigned on a promise to fund 100,000 community police officers nationwide, the separate agency that gives out the funds was not authorized separately by Congress.

In anticipation of a White House move to downgrade the office, 135 members of Congress this week sent a letter to the president declaring that “it is imperative the COPS Office remains an independent agency within the DOJ so that it may continue to support community policing efforts that build trust and mutual respect between law enforcement officers and communities.”

The letter was spearheaded by Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), co-chairs of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, and it includes signers from both parties.

The lawmakers cited the Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring (COPS Hiring) Program, which it said “provides struggling communities with necessary funding to address their personnel needs to protect their citizens.” The program says it has helped cities hire 130,000 officers since 1994.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the budget proposal before it is issued next week.

However, DOJ is expected to contend that giving another agency the responsibility for giving out policing grants would help government efficiency by consolidating federal anticrime grants in one agency.

In 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported that “more than 200 [DOJ] grant programs overlapped across 10 key justice areas, and that this overlap contributed to the risk of unnecessarily duplicative grant awards for the same or similar purposes.”

Last June, the Heritage Foundation, whose recommendations the Trump administration has followed on many spending issues, issued a report saying that “Attorney General Jeff Sessions should consolidate COPS grants into the OJP, thus reducing administrative costs.”

The report was written by David Muhlhausen, then a Heritage staff member and now the Trump administration appointee to head the National Institute of Justice, DOJ’s main research agency.

Muhlhausen also wrote for Heritage that the COPS program has “failed at reducing crime,” and added that, “State and local officials, not the federal government, are responsible for funding the staffing levels of local police departments. By paying for the salaries of police officers, COPS funds the routine, day-to-day functions of police and fire departments.”

The new Trump budget is not expected to seek the elimination of the COPS program, but it may propose major budget cuts, as the White House has done for its own Office of National Drug Control Policy, the so-called drug czar. COPS currently has an annual budget of $218 million, and pending Congressional appropriations bills could increase it slightly.

The new congressional letter asks the White House for “robust funding” of the COPS office, which it credits with overseeing implementation of the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act that establishes a nationwide Blue Alert communications system to help disseminate information on the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, an officer who is missing in connection with the officer’s official duties, or an imminent and credible threat that someone intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer.

The lawmakers’ letter to Trump was supported by four major organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Sheriffs Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

FOP involvement could be significant, because the group was a major backer of Trump’s election. Last summer in Nashville, Attorney General Sessions gave the keynote address to the FOP annual convention, where he announced that Trump was reversing an Obama administration order that restricted police agencies’ access to surplus military equipment, including grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields and firearms.

The White House is expected to counter criticism of its handling of the COPS Office by appointing a well known former police official to head it.

Two sources told The Crime Report they had been told that the Justice Department was considering Phil Keith, who served for more than 16 years as police chief of Knoxville, Tn., until 2004, to head the agency. He would succeed Ronald Davis, a former police chief in East Palo Alto, Ca., who ran COPS under President Obama.

DOJ already has significantly reduced the COPS Office’s authority by scaling back a “collaborative reform” program in which police departments could voluntarily work with COPS to review their practices on some controversial issues such as officers’ use of force.

“Changes to this program will fulfill my commitment to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering important tailored resources to local law enforcement to fight violent crime,” Sessions said last September. “This is a course correction to ensure that resources go to agencies that require assistance rather than expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support.”

Putting the COPS office within the Office of Justice Programs would reduce its independence and visibility because its director would report to an Assistant Attorney General.

As an independent agency, it now reports to the number three official in the entire Justice Department, the Associate Attorney General, giving it much more access to the main Justice Department.

Law enforcement organizations contend that this move would reduce the prominence of the COPS Office that it has enjoyed for 24 years under three presidents. Even though the agency remained intact during the George W. Bush administration, many Republicans have not fully supported it because it was created by a Democratic president.

This includes, perhaps crucially, Mick Mulvaney, the former congressman from South Carolina who now heads Trump’s budget office.

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


Conyers Retiring From Congress, Cites Health Issues

U.S. Rep., John Conyers, Jr., who faces allegations that he sexually harassed former employees, said Tuesday that he was retiring from Congress. His brother’s grandson, a Michigan state senator, will run for the seat.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr., who faces allegations that he sexually harassed former employees, said today he is retiring from Congress, reports the Associated Press. He did not announce a date. The New York Times reports that Ian Conyers, 29, a Michigan state senator and the grandson of John Conyers’s brother, plans to run for the seat held by his 88-year-old great-uncle, a Democrat who represents the Detroit area.

Ian Conyers said the congressman’s “doctor advised him that the rigor of another campaign would be too much for him just in terms of his health.” John Conyers, who took his seat in the House in 1965, has already stepped aside as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee amid swirling allegations of sexual improprieties. He has been facing intense pressure to resign. Speaker Paul Ryan and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, have each said Conyers should resign after a woman who settled a sexual harassment claim against him said on television that the congressman had “violated” her body, repeatedly propositioned her for sex and asked her to touch his genitals. Other former staff members have since come forward to say he harassed them or behaved inappropriately.


Criminologists Ask DOJ to Fill Gaps In FBI Data

Leaders of the two major U.S. criminology organizations asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director Christoper Wray to “immediately revise” the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report to restore 52 tables of data that were not published this year, with little explanation.

Leaders of the two major U.S. criminology organizations have asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director Christopher Wray to “immediately revise” the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) for last year to restore data that previously was reported publicly.

The Crime & Justice Research Alliance, which represents the American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, said “the unnecessary and surprising removal” of most data tables from the report “does not reflect the FBI’s stasted commitment to meeting the needs of the users of these data.”

As reported by, the first UCR release during the Trump administration reduced the number of data tables from 81 to 29, with little explanation.

The criminologists said that “given this administration’s public statements about addressing violent crime, victims’ rights, the opioid epidemic and terrorism, it is unfortunate that the 2016 report removes key data about these topic areas.”

The group noted that data from the UCR’s “supplementary homicide reports” are no longer available regarding the victim-offender relationship or the circumstance of the homicide. “This prevents researchers who study family and intimate partner violence from tracking these homicides over time,” the alliance says.

Also missing are “important arrest tables” such as arrests related to specific drug types. The criminologists said the omissions mean that “progress on critical Administration priorities, such as reducing gang and drug-related homicides, cannot be evaluated with up-to-date evidence.”

The alliance letter was signed by its new chairman, criminologist Peter Wood of Eastern Michigan University.

In addition to Sessions and Wray, it was sent to chairmen and ranking members of the Judiciary Committees and Justice Department appropriation subcommittees of the Senate and House.

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


Trump Names Ex-Hudson Institute’s Anderson to Head BJS

Jeffrey H. Anderson, a conservative scholar chosen by President Trump to head the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, has no apparent experience in the field.

President Trump has announced his intention to appoint a director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) who has no apparent experience in the field.

He’s Jeffrey H. Anderson, a former senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who is described by the White House as a “constitutional scholar” and a “leader in formulating domestic policy proposals.”

Jeffrey Anderson

Jeffrey H. Anderson. Photo courtesy Hudson Institute

Anderson is a former political science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Later he directed the 2017 Project with conservative writer William Kristol, where the White House says he “advanced creative proposals, including Main Street-oriented health-care, tax, and immigration reform.”

This year, the Trump administration named him to direct the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where the White House said he led efforts “to reduce insurance premiums, regulatory burdens, and opioid abuse.”

The only statistical experience cited by the White House in Anderson’s background was co-creating the Anderson and Hester Computer Rankings, which boast of computing college football’s “most accurate strength of schedule ratings,” taking into account the quality of teams’ opponents.

The BJS directorship once required Senate confirmation, but Congress changed the law in 2012 and made the job a presidential appointment.

BJS, established in 1979, says its mission is “to collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government.”

It is perhaps most well known for the annual publication of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures crime through interviews with Americans on whether they were victims of crime in the previous year.

The report is considered more complete than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report because it includes the many offenses not reported to law enforcement agencies.

BJS directors under President Obama, James Lynch of the University of Maryland and William Sabol, now of Georgia State University, both were long-time criminologists and recognized experts in crime and justice statistics.

In May, under the auspices of the American Statistical Association, four former BJS directors wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging that “serious consideration” to head BJS, which operates in Sessions’ Department of Justice, “to individuals who have strong leadership, management, and scientific skills; experience with federal statistical agencies; familiarity with BJS and its products; visibility in the nation’s statistical community; ability to interact productively with Congress and senior DOJ staff; and acceptance of the National Academies’ Principles and Practices for a Federal Statistical Agency.”

The letter was signed by Lynch, Sabol, Jeffrey Sedgwick, who served as BJS director in the last three years of the George W. Bush administration and now directs the Justice Research and Statistics Association, and Lawrence Greenfeld, who headed BJS in the first five years of the Bush administration.

Anderson does not appear to have any of those qualifications.

The same four recent BJS directors wrote in May to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees arguing that the requirement for Senate confirmation for the BJS director should “be restored and that the director’s status be changed from serving at the will of the president to serving a fixed term of at least four years, staggered from the presidential election.”

The ex-directors said in their letter: “It is imperative that policy discussions about the often-contentious issues regarding crime and justice be informed by statistical data trusted by the public to be objective, valid, and reliable…”

“To ensure BJS data are viewed as objective and of highest quality, BJS must be seen as an independent statistical agency wherein data collection, analysis, and dissemination are under the sole control of the BJS.”

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


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.


Public Safety Summit Draws Officials From 50 States

Pennsylvania corrections chief John Wetzel launched the two-day Washington meeting with an appeal to legislators, corrections administrators, police chiefs and health officials to work together on evidence-based solutions. Another speaker said the White House would back unspecified reforms.

To many Americans, “criminal justice reform” means addressing two prominent challenges: reining in abusive police officers or cutting prison populations.

This week, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators brought teams from all 50 states to Washington, D.C., to underline the fact that reform means much more than that.


John E. Wetzel. Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

In opening remarks Monday to the two-day “50-State Summit on Public Safety,” Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel called on fellow justice officials to abandon the “stovepipe approach” of handling issues in isolated silos of the justice system and seek cooperation with experts in other areas.

Wetzel’s remarks set the tone for the meeting, which was aimed at presenting officials in each state with a detailed analysis of their crime issues, including trends in arrests, recidivism and “behavioral health,” and help them come up with evidence-based solutions.

Summit attendees include all state prison directors, 41 state legislators, 35 state behavioral health directors, 15 police chiefs, and 12 sheriffs.

A major theme that surfaced early in the session is that issues often labelled as “criminal justice” problems, such as mental illness and addiction, can be handled just as well by public health authorities.

“Mental health needs are overwhelming the criminal justice system,” warned Fred Osher of the state government group, who presided over a panel on “Growing Crises.”

“Crime in the U.S. often is described only in terms of national trends, while in reality, the problem differs greatly among states and localities. For example, the violent crime rate nationally is much lower than it was in the 1990s, but 18 states have reported rising violence totals in recent years.”

A panel of three police chiefs, Renee Hall of Dallas, J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Md., and Anthony Campbell of New Haven, Ct., discussed a range of approaches being tried in their areas, including more police involvement with schools, and programs to help chronic criminals get jobs.

Hall said police “are not social workers,” but they still believe in forging partnerships with businesses and outside the justice system to help reduce repeat criminality.

In fact, recidivism is another major topic of discussion at the summit, particularly trying to reduce repeated crime among people on probation, a topic not often discussed at such conferences.

Critics often point to the U.S. prison and jail population that tops 2 million, but it’s often overlooked that more than twice as many are on probation or parole.

Repeat crime among those released from prison is 40 percent or more in many states, depending on how it’s measured. The fact that more than 4.6 million people were on probation or parole as of 2015 means that even the lower repeat-crime rate among those convicts mean many more total “recidivism events” by probationers every year, said the Council of State Governments’ Andy Barbee.

Criminologist Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati told the conference that too many probation and parole officers act like “referees” whose main job is to determine whether probationers and parolees have violated rules and should be sent back to custody.

Instead, he argued, they should be trained more as “coaches” to take active steps that would prevent those on their caseloads from reoffending.

Bryan Collier, criminal justice director in Texas, and Kathy Waters, probation director for the Arizona Supreme Court, described how their states have used variations on that approach to reduce the totals of people whose probation and parole has been revoked in recent years. Such offenders have accounted for a large percentage of new prison admittees in many states.

The conference heard about a new “Face to Face” program sponsored by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in which public officials are encouraged to meet directly with convicts to hear about their challenges in getting job training or education behind bars.

Attendees were shown a video of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visiting prisons. The effort is a bipartisan one. Participants so far include Reynolds, a Republican, along with Republican governors of Georgia, Missouri, and Nevada, and Democratic governors in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, and North Carolina.

One governor who has criminal justice reform high on the agenda is Republican Matt Bevin of Kentucky, a businessman who made a featured appearance at the summit on Monday.

Bevin has backed reforms including easier expungement of some criminal records by former inmates and “banning the box” to bar state officials from asking applicants about their criminal pasts.

He also has started pilot programs in seven adult and juvenile corrections facilities to improve job training for inmates, and is working to remove prohibitions on former convicts’ obtaining state licenses for many occupations.

Bevin took part in a recent White House meeting with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, to discuss potential justice reforms on the federal level.

The governor said he came away “very confident” that the White House will back reform measures, although he didn’t specify which ones.

Bevin said he was not confident that Congress would agree, although he praised several Republicans, including his state’s Sen. Rand Paul, for joining the reform movement.

After the summit, the U.S. Justice Department will offer “technical assistance” to as many as 25 states to pursue reform measures.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center will issue a report in January with its detailed state crime and justice findings.

The summit is being funded by DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Tow Foundation.

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


Police Anti-Terror Training Gets a New Boost

The State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program (SLATT) will keep running and be retooled during the Trump administration despite an earlier announcement that it would end on September 30.

A U.S. Department of Justice program to train state and local police officers how to fight terrorism will continue indefinitely, despite an earlier announcement that it would shut down this past September.

The program is called the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program, or SLATT, and its declared mission is to provide “critical training and resources to our nation’s law enforcement, who face the challenges presented by the terrorist/violent criminal extremist threat.”

In July, The Crime Report said that the popular program was due to end on September 30. Congress had failed for three years to provide funds for it, but the Obama Justice Department had found money to keep it alive.

The Trump administration didn’t request funding for SLATT, even though President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have been strong supporters of law enforcement and have spoken out forcefully against terrorism.

Now it turns out that the DOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance, which has overseen SLATT since it was launched back in 1996, is determined to keep it operating, with Trump administration backing.

By Washington, D.C., standards, SLATT is a small program, commanding only about $1 million a year. Justice Department officials say they are able to find funds for it in a fairly large pot of money called the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, usually known by its key initials JAG.

Over the years, SLATT has spent more than $45 million training more than 146,700 law enforcement professionals. It also has funded a “Train-the-Trainer Workshop” that has taught about 3,500 law enforcement trainers, who in turn have provided instruction to about 270,000 more law enforcement officers.

The job of running SLATT has been contracted to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IRR), a Tallahassee, Florida-based firm headed by Rick Gregory, a former police chief in Utah and Delaware.

Because of the funding uncertainties, SLATT will be offered on a curtailed basis during what DOJ is calling the current “bridge year” until it it resumes at full strength next October.

In the past, local police officers have been offered a two-and-one-half day training session covering such topics as terrorism ideologies, dealing with domestic terrorists including “sovereign citizens” and anarchists, international terrorism, and intelligence and information sharing among law enforcement agencies.

For the next few months, SLATT will be taught to local police in a shortened one-day form.

Probably by early next year, the Justice Department will post a notice offering any training provider the chance to bid on the opportunity to run SLATT.

DOJ will seek a revised curriculum that will make more use of FBI training materials than the current course does.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the nation’s largest group of police managers, is enthusiastic about SLATT’s continuation. IACP says that although large police departments like New York City and Los Angeles have the capacity to train their own officers about terrorism, there are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the U.S., most of which have two dozen employees or fewer and cannot provide such specialized training.

If SLATT is so popular and fighting terrorism is such a major federal cause, why is there so little formal support for it in the capital?

The Trump administration has been in office less than a year, and hasn’t gotten around to naming a director for the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and many other federal agencies.

As for Congress, it has managed to keep the federal government going only by means of a “continuing resolution” that expires on December 8.

Money for the Justice Department is combined in a fund that includes the Commerce Department and science agencies like NASA.

The Senate and House committees that deal with those units have about $54 billion to spend this year, meaning that it is easy for a program like SLATT to get lost in the shuffle.

Those interested in following SLATT’s progress in the future can check its website.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau chief of The Crime Report. Comments welcome.


Bipartisan House Duo Joins Justice Reform Bandwagon

Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) unveiled their “Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective Justice Act, known as SAFE, with a panel discussion that spanned the ideological spectrum.

An ineffective Congress isn’t dimming the enthusiasm of criminal justice reformers this year.

First, a bipartisan group of senators vowed to press forward with a major sentencing reform that stalled amid last year’s election campaigns.

Now, a Democrat-Republican duo in the House are reviving a version of a justice reform plan that also failed to pass in the last Congress.

Bobby Scott

Rep. Bobby Scott

Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) unveiled their “Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective Justice Act, known as SAFE, on Thursday with a panel discussion that spanned the ideological spectrum.

Scott is a 13-term House member and former chairman of the House subcommittee on crime who has long pursued criminal justice issues. Lewis is a freshman from Minnesota who in his campaign backed the version of SAFE introduced in the last Congress by Scott and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), current chairman of the House crime panel.

jason lewis

Rep. Jason Lewis

SAFE is broader than Senate justice bills because it not only would reduce mandatory minimum sentences but also would curtail “overcriminalization,” a favorite target of conservatives who contend that there are too many “regulatory criminal offenses” that ensnare well-meaning citizens in technical violations of federal rules.

There are 4,500 federal laws that carry criminal penalties, Lewis said, observing that, “We don’t have to federalize every aspect of criminal law.”

Scott and Lewis assembled a panel of backers that included representatives of two well-known conservative groups, the NAACP, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, and a former federal inmate-turned-law professor.

Leading off the discussion was David Safavian of the American Conservative Union, who asserted that criminal justice reform is a “rare issue that unites the right and the left.”

Noting that federal inmates have a 40 percent recidivism rate, Safavian observed tthat “only a federal program can have a 40 percent failure rate and go on without change.”

At the annual gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this year, he said, 92 percent of participants agreed on the need to fix the criminal justice system, and the major issues identified by those surveyed that should be addressed are mental health and addition.

He was followed by Jake Horowitz of Pew, which has worked in about three dozen states on reforms as part of the “justice reinvestment” initiative. Horowitz mentioned a repeated theme at the gathering: that state governments have outpaced federal officials on basing criminal justice policies on evidence of what works to prevent crime.

Horowitz chose as an example South Carolina, where the prison population has dropped 14 percent since a package of sentencing and corrections reforms was enacted in 2010. The changes reduced penalties for minor drug and property offenses, expanded inmate release options, strengthened community supervision, and increased.

Pew says that the state has been able to close six prisons and save $491 million, while the crime rate continues to fall.

The federal government must face up to the fact that more than half its prisoners are convicted of drug crimes, a large proportion of them couriers or “mules” and not major drug kingpins, Horowitz said.

Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) stressed that current federal sentencing statutes are “evidence-free laws…there is no basis for them.” Ring, who served in prison himself for a white-collar offense, said that Congress in the 1980s and 1990s wrote legislation without gauging its potential effectiveness, racheting up prison tersms for various offenses.

Prison actually “should be the last resort” for many offenses, he asserted.

Hilary Shelton of the NAACP discussed “blatant racial disparities” in incarceration, saying that African Americans are imprisoned far in excess of their proportion of the U.S. population. The Prison Policy Initiative reports that blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population but 40 percent of its prison inmates.

Shon Hopwood became a “jailhouse lawyer” serving a prison term in Nebraska for bank robbery and now is a faculty member at Georgetown University in the capital.

At Thursday’s discussion, he argued that federal prison terms are too long, partly because prosecutors are allowed to “stack” charges that add to penalties under federal firearms laws.

FAMM says that federal law provides for mandatory minimum sentences of five, seven, ten and 30 years for some gun crimes, and the sentences must be served consecutively.

The final speaker was Ronald Lampard of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which represents state legislators and believes in “limited government.” Lampard, a former prosecutor, returned to the issue of the expansion of federal criminal regulatory laws, contending that many were unnecessarily harsh.

Despite the impressive support for the SAFE bill from across the spectrum, its chances for passage any time soon are limited, given that Congress has been unable to agree on much substantive legislation and is headed for a divisive debate on tax reform.

Still, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have repeatedly said that criminal justice is an issue they believe deserves to be high on the Capitol priority list.

A decisive question may be the position of the Trump administration. President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions regularly call for “get tough” policies and Sessions has been skeptical of reducing mandatory minimum sentences.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says that Sessions and others in the administration, presumably including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose father served a prison term and who has been tasked by the president with working on criminal justice, have agreed to work with lawmakers on a compromise plan.

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