In his first year in office, President Donald Trump rolled back many of the incremental gains made in criminal justice reform over the last decade, eroding hard-won efforts by organizers and community members around the country, according to Local Progress, a national network for progressive elected officials from cities and counties around the country.
The group of officials noted that, under Trump, the Department of Justice has withdrawn from previous investigations of police abuse and misconduct, resumed the use of private, for-profit prisons, and stopped granting commutations to low-level drug offenders.
In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to charge as aggressively as possible in every case, reversing an Obama-era policy that eased up on nonviolent drug offenses.
Local Progress asserted that Trump and Sessions repeatedly pedaled falsehoods suggesting that crime and murder rates are at all-time highs. They said the president also has publicly drawn erroneous connections between immigration and crime.
Further, Trump has suggested publicly that police officers could, and even should, use excessive force and violence when making arrests and transporting suspects, according to the group.
In an effort to separate fact from falsehoods, Local Progress engaged elected officials and community leaders in a range of communities to evaluate their localities’ policing practices using a toolkit called Reform/Transform.
Over the course of 2019, the officials evaluated 12 cities of various range, types and sizes, including Washington, D.C.
Using the Reform/Transform: Policing Policy Tool, the evaluation of 12 cities showed that there is still a need for significant improvements to the use of force and independent oversight measures.
However, the District stood out among the other eleven jurisdictions evaluated, scoring high marks for its work to end cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
“While D.C. has made more progress than some other places when it comes to reforming our police practices, we still have plenty more to do,” D.C. Councilman David Grosso said in a statement.
“Reform/Transform offers D.C. leaders and community members a simple, visual tool that shows us where we can make the most effective improvements and provides us a metric by which we can hold ourselves accountable for implementing real policing reforms,” said Grosso, an active member of the Local Progress coalition.
The tool was launched in 2018 to provide local elected officials, policymakers, and organizers with a resource on how to evaluate policing reforms on a set of standardized best practices across jurisdictions.
The 2019 analysis evaluated four areas of policing practices: use of force, independent oversight, co-optation of local law enforcement for federal immigration enforcement, and investment in public safety beyond policing.
The District received one of the best scores on limiting local law enforcement involvement with immigration enforcement, due in part to a policy change earlier year that ended the Department of Corrections’ practice of notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when residents with immigration detainers were being released from the jail — a change Grosso said he had been pushing for years.
D.C. also received credit for having an independent, civilian oversight body for the Metropolitan Police Department, putting restrictions and reporting in place regarding police use of force, and investing in violence prevention efforts that are not dependent on police.
“Reforming the criminal legal system is an ongoing effort and has been one of my highest priorities as a council member and I’m proud of the District’s progress toward a more community-focused, accountable police force, but more action is needed,” Grosso said. “I look forward to using this report as a tool to continue that work and I plan to introduce legislation in the coming months that closes the gaps in our policies that this report identifies.
“We need policies that place a greater emphasis on de-escalation training, make our police oversight body stronger and more independent, and deepen our commitment to our sanctuary-city status,” he said.