More than 65 current and former law enforcement officials from around the country have signed a letter being made public Friday morning that calls “deeply disturbing” statements of U.S. Attorney General William Barr that the reform prosecutors winning elections in many cities are “anti-law enforcement.”
The signers, who included current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials, wrote that in his criticisms of a new breed of prosecutors Barr had used rhetoric “of past decades that stoked fear and impeded progress.”
The signers included everyone from local officials Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to former U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Sullivan to national officials such as Philadelphia District Attorney Lawrence Krasner, former Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reimer, and New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
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At issue are Barr’s comments Aug. 12 to the Fraternal Order of Police in which he said that a growing number of reform-minded prosecutors, many who took office with significant financial support from supporters of sweeping criminal justice reform, are “anti-law enforcement.”
The comments come amidst a sharp divide in cities around the country between rank-and-file police and prosecutors who have taken office advocated sweeping reforms that would lock up fewer defendants for nonviolent crimes and show a willingness to revisit past convictions built on questionable evidence.
In Philadelphia, after Krasner was elected, several police officers were openly critical; one posted on Facebook as the new district attorney took office that “you can hear police cars all through the city placed in park. Let it burn.”
And in St. Louis, the local prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, has been repeatedly challenged by local police for her decisions; most recently, a union official said that Gardner had “no credibility.”
This week in St. Louis, a group of reform prosecutors around the country filed a brief supporting Gardner’s decision to seek to overturn the conviction of a St. Louis man whom her office concluded was wrongly convicted based on police fabrications and prosecutorial misconduct.
Gardner, like Krasner, signed the challenge to Barr.
Another signer was Foxx, who has her own disputes with local police rank and file. The local police union called on her to resign over her decision to drop the prosecution of actor Jussie Smollett. Foxx’s office provided a statement Thursday saying, “Attorney General Barr’s notion that taking steps to build trust and fairness in our criminal justice system is somehow at odds with public safety is unequivocally false, disrespectful, and dangerous.”
The statement added that “Barr’s scare tactics only serve to further a false narrative and promote failed approaches of the past that have historically harmed many in our communities. We are partners, not adversaries, with those who are sworn to serve and protect, and we will continue to work together to pursue justice, increase public safety, and correct the mistakes of the past – not repeat them.”
Law enforcement officials around the country this week reiterated that point.
Joseph Brann, the former Hayward, Ca., police chief who went on to direct a community policing program in the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a telephone interview that he considered Barr’s comments “antithetical to what this country is about.”
“I’m really bothered by the words, the type of metaphor that I see him falling back into, which is reflective of what we were saying 50 years ago,” said Brann, referring to analogies such as the “war on crime.”
“We’re not engaged in a war,” Brann remarked. “And from a law enforcement perspective, we provide police services to a community.” Brann said he fears that the pendulum has swung in the current administration, away from “ensuring constitutional policing.”
He added, “We do not need to be trying to create a sense of fear on the part of either the public or those that are working within the criminal justice system in order to move forward with effective public policies.”