Shortly after swearing in Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general yesterday (January 9), President Donald Trump signed three executive orders that he says are aimed at reducing crime. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the orders do not address actual problems that the United States faces.
Here is a rundown of what Trump instituted:
Executive Order: Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public SafetyThis executive order directs Sessions to establish a task force with the same name as the order. That group is tasked with “develop[ing] strategies to reduce crime” and proposing new legislation “to improve public safety and reduce crime.” From the text:
Many communities across the nation are suffering from high rates of violent crime. A focus on law and order and the safety and security of the American people requires a commitment to enforcing the law and developing policies that comprehensively address illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violent crime. The Department of Justice shall take the lead on federal actions to support law enforcement efforts nationwide and to collaborate with state, tribal and local jurisdictions to restore public safety to all of our communities.
Executive Order: Enforcing Federal Law With Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International TraffickingThis executive order directs federal law enforcement agencies to make breaking up cartels a priority, with an emphasis on “the swift removal from the United States of foreign nationals who are members of such organizations.” It also increases agencies’ ability to share information both with other American agencies and intelligence outfits around the world.
Transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations, including transnational drug cartels, have spread throughout the nation, threatening the safety of the United States and its citizens. These organizations derive revenue through widespread illegal conduct, including acts of violence and abuse that exhibit a wanton disregard for human life. They, for example, have been known to commit brutal murders, rapes and other barbaric acts. These groups are drivers of crime, corruption, violence and misery. … A comprehensive and decisive approach is required to dismantle these organized crime syndicates and restore safety for the American people. …
It also includes the following clause, which is directed at immigrants: “pursue and support additional efforts to prevent the operational success of transnational criminal organizations and subsidiary organizations within and beyond the United States, to include prosecution of ancillary criminal offenses, such as immigration fraud and visa fraud, and the seizure of the implements of such organizations and forfeiture of the proceeds of their criminal activity.”
Executive Order: Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal and Local Law Enforcement OfficersThe third order appears to set the stage for national “Blue Lives Matter” legislation that would impose harsher punishments for people who commit crimes against police.
Develop strategies, in a process led by the Department of Justice and within the boundaries of the Constitution and existing federal laws, to further enhance the protection and safety of federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers; and pursue appropriate legislation, consistent with the Constitution’s regime of limited and enumerated federal powers, that will define new federal crimes, and increase penalties for existing federal crimes, in order to prevent violence against federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers.
It also includes a clause that directs the DOJ to evaluate all grant funding programs to see if the money is used for programming that “supports and protects” law enforcement.
But ACLU’s deputy legal director, Jeffery Robinson, argues in a statement released yesterday that these three presidential orders not only address non-issues, but draw attention from the real problems that impact communities of color:
President Trump intends to build task forces to investigate and stop national trends that don’t exist. We have seen historic lows in the country’s crime rate and a downward trend in killings against police officers since the 1980s. The president not only doesn’t acknowledge these facts about our nation’s safety, he persists in ignoring the all-too-real deaths of Black and Brown people at the hands of law enforcement. There are some cities that have had recent rises in violent crime, and they deserve help. And every locality in America wants to further reduce crime and violence. But task forces premised on misinformation, and looking in the wrong places for the wrong problems, are not the answer.
As Quartz points out, the trends do not support Trump’s assertions that crime is trending upward (he recently falsely claimed that murders are at at 47-year high). While violent crime rose slightly from 2015 to 2016, the FBI reports that it has dropped significantly over the last two decades.
The same goes for police deaths.