Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are unambiguous: They believe racism pervades policing and all other aspects of the criminal-justice system. Just a day before the networks declared Biden the president-elect, he claimed a “mandate” to eliminate “systemic racism.” During the campaign, the ex-veep routinely announced that black parents were right to worry that their children would be shot by the police.
Biden’s plan for “strengthening America’s commitment to justice” reads like a Black Lives Matter wish list; there is no reason to think that a Biden-Harris Justice Department won’t implement it. Among its most consequential proposals, it calls for a return to the practice of imposing weakly justified consent decrees on police departments.
During the Obama years, career attorneys in the Justice Department regularly opened civil-rights probes into police departments without credible evidence that an agency was systematically violating citizens’ constitutional rights. Those investigations almost invariably resulted in settlements, called consent decrees, that placed police departments under the control of a nonelected federal monitor and a federal judge; monitors collected millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded fees while they held police departments to draconian deadlines and mindless paper-pushing mandates for years.
President Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, reformed that practice. In November 2018, Sessions signed a directive requiring a high-level DOJ official to approve each consent decree. The order also made sure those decrees have a sunset date — usually no longer than three years — and specify what a department must do to terminate them.
The directive, moreover, stipulated that a police agency’s alleged constitutional violations must be truly systematic and unlikely to be corrected absent a de facto federal takeover. DOJ attorneys must balance any expected benefits from the consent decree against its costs. High-paid monitors should be a last resort.
This sensible set of guidelines will now be torn up, if Biden’s narrow victory holds. Biden’s criminal-justice plan promises to “reverse” the Trump “limitations” and to “prioritize” the use of consent decrees. Police departments are on notice: They may expect a knock on the door at any time from a Washington attorney demanding truckloads of documents as the prelude to years of federal interference and budget-busting compliance rules and fees.
Strikingly, the justice blueprint goes further than even Obama-era policy by calling for investigations of prosecutors’ offices, on the ground that they, too, engage in “systemic misconduct.”
The Biden administration will create a federal task force to combat alleged discrimination in arrest and charging decisions. But while the Biden plan would strip police officers and prosecutors of their discretion regarding whom to arrest and whom and how to charge, it would return unchecked discretion in sentencing to federal judges by seeking to eliminate all mandatory-minimum federal sentences for violent street crime and drug trafficking.
The law enforcement community must get out in front of this issue before that wave of federal scrutiny breaks upon them. The task is all the more urgent after a summer of violent leftist rioting and rising violent crime in urban cores. Police commissioners should hold regular news conferences laying out the crime realities in their cities. They should show maps of where 911 and 311 calls originate from. Those maps reveal a disproportionate number of requests for police enforcement coming from minority neighborhoods. Police leaders must break the taboo regarding black-on-black crime. It is that crime, not racism, that sends officers to minority neighborhoods.
Chiefs must also line up local proprietors, hardworking residents and senior citizens who can testify to the oppression of street crime and who will voice their need for, and support of, the police.
They include the sister of a murdered Chicago cop, who wrote earlier this year: “I have never, ever had a neighbor ask me how we can reduce the police presence in our neighborhood. I am, however, consistently asked how we can increase our allocation of police resources.”
Plenty of polls show that this good woman is representative. A Biden administration would ignore those surveys, but police chiefs should hit back with such individual stories. Unless they start building a case for proactive policing now, the anarchy of the last five months will worsen and become the new national norm.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. This piece was adapted from City Journal. Follow her on Twitter here.
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