If you haven’t viewed the NPR video of President Obama’s conversation with David Simon, the creator of the HBO series “The Wire,” on the subjects of drugs, criminal justice policies and law enforcement, it is worth watching.
The President lauded the series as one of the greatest pieces of art in the last two decades, a view expressed by many in law enforcement of all possible perspectives. The show follows the lives of drug dealers, school kids, teachers, and police officers in the worst sections of drug infested Baltimore.
Much of the discussion, I thought, had a lot of merit. The nation’s declining rate of violent crime arrests and increasingly long sentences for all levels of drug convictions, causes and effects, posed some insightful discussion. Both men recognized the effectiveness on public safety resulting from a shift in city police resources from street level arrests to more complex investigations of more culpable traffickers. Neither pointed out, however, the contribution and support for this trend from federal law enforcement.
The President did recognize the challenges for law enforcement, the dangers police face, and the need to engage prosecutors and the public, along with law enforcement, in discussions about the “environmental factors,” like the role of schools, counselors, mental health resources, and job availability to change the life directions of convicted drug dealers.
Other topics, however, activated my “squirm” factor.
The President noted the Attorney General’s efforts to convert USAOs away from thinking about effective prosecutions based on the length of the sentences obtained toward achieving justice in cases. He is apparently accomplishing this goal “administratively,” but it needs new legislation to compel this objective of re-orienting federal prosecutors.
Jeez, here I thought that this was what the overwhelming percentage of USAs and AUSAs have long been accomplishing in adherence to, but also sometimes in spite of, the policy dictates and requirements of Washington along with the array of crime and sentence legislation passed by a demagogic Congress to burnish their image as crime fighters.
The other issue was the lack of any mention of the need to support the priorities and resources of federal law enforcement, which has aimed to accomplish many of the exact changes in policy direction highlighted by the discussion.
For my money until the money issue popped up in state and federal governments, the absence of any political and policy discussion of important criminal justice and law enforcement issues has been deafening. As has the absence of political will and leadership to promote ways to evolve and innovate in this area, in tandem with adequately supporting the every-day responsibilities to enforce the law.
This complaint is aimed not only, or perhaps even primarily, at the Executive Branch, but can be shared with the Congress, as well as state governments. Perhaps most of all, the issue has unfortunately simply slid off the public and political wave length in the last decade. Think about how often you heard candidates discuss crime and law enforcement in their campaign speeches.
I know this is preaching to the choir for many ticklethewire.com readers and quibbling and unproductive finger pointing for others. The fact is that there is much to applaud in the President raising these subjects for discussion on the public agenda even in this limited forum. His reasons for optimism for a wider discussion in the future are encouraging for us all.