Washington, DC - This week, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice held hearings on crime reduction, with panelists speaking about the national and local impact of violent crime, gun crime, and gangs. The hearings were held over three days via teleconference. Each teleconference featured a panel of expert witnesses who provided testimony and, subsequently, answered questions from the Commissioners.
On Tuesday, April 7, the Commission received testimony regarding the national and local impact of violent crime from Amy Blasher, Chief of the Crime Statistics Management Unit for the FBI; U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman for the Northern District of Ohio; Collin County (Texas) Sheriff Jim Skinner; Chief Steve Anderson, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, and; Camden County (N.J.) Police Chief Scott Thomson (retired).
Testimony and discussions focused on the local and national trends of violent crime and the various initiatives law enforcement are implementing to address it. Chief Blasher recommended that “the nation’s law enforcement agencies fully support a transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System to improve understanding violent crime … and create a framework for better assessment of crime reduction strategies.” U.S. Attorney Herdman stressed the importance of “community partnerships convened at the federal level and focused on violent crime prevention.” Sheriff Skinner discussed the importance of highway interdiction efforts; because sheriffs have jurisdiction over miles of state and federal highways, they are an asset to fighting weapons, drugs, cash, and human smuggling. Chief Anderson highlighted the importance of devoting resources to high crime neighborhoods, not based on an enforcement model, but to develop lasting relationships, which will transform the lives of the people who live there. Chief Thomson testified to the importance of repairing relationships in communities where high levels of mistrust of law enforcement exist, “community policing has to be meaningful and it has to be based upon human contact… [it’s] not just a squad car sitting there with its windows rolled up and the officer reading a paper or... texting on their phone.”
On Wednesday, April 8, the Commission heard testimony regarding gun crimes from Tom Chittum, Assistant Director of Field Operations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Melissa Nelson, State Attorney, Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit; Paul Neudigate, Assistant Chief, Cincinnati Police Department, and; U.S. Attorney Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Testimony and discussion focused on the impact of gun crimes on public safety and the tools needed to address it. Assistant Director Chittum provided detailed testimony of how firearms end up in the hands of criminals, whether through theft, straw purchases, or, becoming increasingly more common, privately made firearms. State Attorney Nelson, Assistant Chief Neudigate, and U.S. Attorney Terwilliger each testified to the importance of removing crime guns from the streets, engaging with communities to remove high impact players, increasing state and federal firearms prosecutions, and partnering with the ATF, whose expertise, particularly with ballistic technology, is critical to solving gun crimes. “Without ATF, the use of gunshot detection would not be as effective, as we would lack the ability to link the recovered shell casings to crime and individuals,” stated Chief Neudigate.
On Thursday, April 9, the Commission heard testimony regarding gangs from Tim Sini, District Attorney, Suffolk County, New York; Commissioner Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County, New York, Police Department; Victor Gonzalez, Director of Program Services, City of Houston Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office Department of Neighborhoods; and Robert Mateo, President of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations.
Testimony and discussion focused on gang eradication and prevention. Commissioner Hart argued that targeted enforcement alone will not lead to the eradication of MS13 in Suffolk County communities. Success requires law enforcement to partner with community members, schools, clergy, and other community stakeholders. District Attorney Sini discussed the importance of electronic surveillance in eradicating criminal organizations. He advocated for smart investment in technology for local law enforcement. Director Gonzalez discussed prevention and intervention, particularly in schools, to stop at-risk youth from joining gangs. President Mateo testified that laws – even language – have been slow to respond to the evolution of criminal gangs and how they operate. He recommends strengthening state and federal laws to afford prosecutors the tools they need to prosecute gang members for violent crimes.