Mikulski Stresses Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement Reforms and Resources at Hearing on DOJ Budget

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Subcommittee, attended a CJS hearing to review the fiscal year 2016 budget request for the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“I’m glad to be here with Chairman Shelby and happy Loretta Lynch was finally confirmed as the United States Attorney General. 
“Attorney General Lynch, you’ve had an eventful two weeks in office.  This is your first hearing since being confirmed and I look forward to your testimony on the 2016 budget.  I am eager to hear from you about ongoing efforts at the many Justice Department agencies.
“First off, I want to thank you Attorney General Lynch for your professional and intensive interaction with the Maryland delegation and with the leadership of Baltimore – our mayor, our law enforcement officers, our community leaders and our faith leaders. 
“You and your team have been on the ground, including Vanita Gupta who leads the Civil Rights Division, Ron Davis who is the Director of the COPS Office and your Community Relations Service staff.  On Tuesday, we were in Baltimore together listening to the faith community, meeting with local officials and getting the facts.
“Today I will not ask questions about the Freddie Gray investigation. Charges have been filed against the six officers and the legal process is unfolding.  We should let justice be served with due process for Freddie Gray and his family, and due process for the officers and their families.
“However, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has requested you conduct a pattern and practices investigation, examining the entire Baltimore Police Department’s procedures and their impact on the civil rights of Baltimore’s citizens.  Today, Senator Cardin and I will be sending a letter supporting the request for a pattern and practices investigation.  I look forward to your response.
“In many cities throughout the country, including my own city of Baltimore, the trust between community and police is broken.  We must do all we can to restore that trust.  We need criminal justice reform undertaken with the fierce urgency of now.
“I intend to ask: what resources you need? And, what does need to be reformed?  We need targeted reforms that protect the rights of communities, while also protecting the rights of officers who do difficult jobs and deserve our respect.
“As appropriators, we put money in the federal checkbook to fund the Justice Department.  Last year, this Committee put $2.3 billion into the federal checkbook for grant programs and targeted resources that help police and local governments make their communities safer and more secure.  These programs range from tackling the rape kit backlog to training judges handling child abuse cases.  Let’s look at a few examples of what Justice Department grant funds buy:
“Mayors have told us they need help getting enough cops on the beat, so we put $180 million in funding to hire 1,000 new officers.
“Police departments told us they need better equipment and training, so we put $375 million into Byrne-JAG grants, which helped 1,500 local police departments buy officer radios, computers for squad cars, police car dash cameras and other equipment and training, including body cameras.  In fact, this Committee provided $20 million to purchase body cameras in 2015, and the request includes another $30 million for 2016.
“Communities and non-profits want help keeping our young people on the straight and narrow.  The Omnibus included $252 million for juvenile justice programs, such as delinquency prevention and youth mentoring.  Are we getting our money’s worth?  Are we doing enough prevention and intervention?
“Those are just some of the resources we provide to help communities.  But resources aren’t enough.  We’ve also heard calls for criminal justice reform from faith based organizations, community leaders and national civil rights organizations.
“There are three to consider here today, and I’d like to hear your reaction during this hearing or following it in writing.
“First, tie grant funding to training.  I just discussed some of the important grants for state and local law enforcement.  In order to get those grant funds, should DOJ require training on racial and ethnic bias and use of force?  What national standards should we require departments to meet?  Are those standards developed and in use?
“Second, examine extensive use of body-worn cameras.  Some see recording encounters between police and the community as deterrence against improper use of force, others see it as protection.  But I have questions: what policies need to be in place to meet privacy concerns, technology concerns and fiscal concerns?  Should we be funding body cameras?  What will we learn from pilot programs funded in 2015?  We put in $20 million for body camera demonstrations, but in Baltimore alone it would take $9 million to put a camera on every officer.  Are body cameras a needed reform, or just a quick fix solution?
“Third, the examination of broken windows policy, which now appears to have resulted in a broken trust with the community.  Initially, it appeared to be a success – crime rates were lower and even community leaders seemed satisfied with it.  The idea was to stop youth from doing minor crimes to prevent them from escalating to major crimes.  But what happened was an obsession with statistics.  Performance became measured on how many people you stopped, not how many problems were solved.
“According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in 2012, there were more than 120,000 police stops in Baltimore.  People were stopped for broken windows offenses, but we never fixed the broken windows.  We never addressed the vacant houses, lack of jobs or truancy issue.  What are your plans and strategies to examine broken windows policy to make sure police strategies don’t contribute to lack of trust within communities?
“Last week, on that horrible night – it’s true a couple hundred kids caused a significant disturbance, but it’s also true that more than 85,000 of Baltimore’s kids went home and did what they were supposed to.
“Baltimore is a great city of over 610,000 law abiding people who respect the law and want the law to respect them.  They are ready to help do their part.  They don’t want quick fixes or money thrown at them or see the effort gone as soon as the TV cameras are gone.  They want relentless follow through on what needs to be done long term to fix the broken windows and bring about systemic change.  I look forward to hearing your ideas.”