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Justice Committee Session Stresses Need for Partnerships to Reduce Crime in Cities

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
January 30, 2012

The importance of partnerships to successful crime prevention efforts was a central theme of the discussion in the January 19 meeting of the Criminal and Social Justice Committee.

Committee Chair Houston Mayor Annise Parker provided an update on the joint efforts of state and local officials and public safety to secure the D Block of the 700MHz spectrum for public safety. She reported that bills are pending in both the House and the Senate that provide for the reallocation of the D Block to public safety, and it's possible that a version will be included in legislation that would extend the payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits for the year.

"Crime can only be understood as part of a larger issue, including education, public health, economic conditions, and housing," Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs Laurie Robinson told the mayors and others assembled for the session. She said that a comprehensive approach to crime is critical and that she applauds mayors' commitment to work in partnership with others in their communities. Robinson described some of the innovative efforts her agency is promoting, in particular the efforts to prevent and reduce juvenile crime in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, and San Jose. She indicated that her agency will be seeking to add four cities to this effort through a competitive solicitation that will be released in the coming months.

Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Acting Director B. Todd Jones discussed how his Bureau partners with state and local officials around the country in its efforts as one of the Justice Department's four law enforcement agencies. In particular he mentioned Project Exile, in which U.S. Attorneys work in partnership with state and local authorities to detain dangerous armed felons involved in drug or violent crimes prior to trial and prosecute them in federal court.

COPS Office Director Barney Melekian discussed the reduction COPS hiring grant funding and the need to work together to demonstrate that the presence of police officers makes cities safer. He thanked the Conference of Mayors for its efforts to keep the program funded this year, noting that the House-passed appropriations bill would have eliminated it. He indicated that FY 2011 applicants which did not receive funds will be given the opportunity to update their applications around March 1.

Melekian also discussed the impact of the economic downturn on police departments, which have seen approximately 12,000 officers laid off, approximately 30,000 law enforcement jobs unfulfilled, and 28,000 officers furloughed for at least a week in 2010 alone. He suggested that as a result there will be a fundamental change in policing services in the next few years. He also discussed the increase in police officer deaths in recent years and indicated that the Attorney General has made police officer safety a priority.

Among the subjects discussed by the mayors present were ways to reduce overall costs criminal justice system costs by reforming procedures relating to preliminary hearings and grand juries (by Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle); the need for more and better assistance to people coming out of jail, in particular because of the difficulty they often have as felons in getting a job (by Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell); and the need to reduce young peoples' easy access to guns (by Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton).