Chief Bratton Testifies Before National Criminal Justice Commission

June 11, 2009

Washington DC: At 3 p.m. EDT today, Chief William J. Bratton, in his capacity as the President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, testified before the National Criminal Justice Commission (NCJC) to make recommendations for improvements to the criminal justice system.

The NCJC was formed recently as a result of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, introduced by Virginia Senator Jim Webb in March of this year.  The commission is charged with a comprehensive 18-month review of the country’s entire penal system.  Its purpose is to:

Propose concrete, wide-ranging reforms designed to responsibly reduce the overall incarceration rate;
Improve federal and local responses to international and domestic gang violence;
Restructure the established approach to drug policy;
Improve the treatment of mental illness;
Improve prison administration, and
Establish a better system for reintegrating ex-offenders.

Senator Webb and other respected leaders have demonstrated a compelling need for reforms to address the incarceration rate, which is the world’s highest, skyrocketing costs, an inability to curtail street drug use, poor successes with prisoner re-entry into society and more.

In support of the Criminal Justice Commission’s formation, Chief Bratton offered his perspective on law enforcement developments over the last 40 years and made recommendations on the composition and scope of inquiries of the newly formed commission.

Chief Bratton’s presentation was based on two premises: first, that the government and its law enforcement agents have an obligation to safeguard the rights of both the victims of crimes and those who are accused and/or incarcerated; and second, that continued crime control and improving the quality of life in neighborhoods and communities can only be achieved if law enforcement focuses on preventing crime, instead of merely waiting for crime to happen and attempting to arrest and incarcerate the offenders.
Chief Bratton emphasized that there hasn’t been a comprehensive study of the entire criminal justice system since the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration and Justice, which was formed in 1965, and that the country’s criminal justice system is still operating on those findings and recommendations.

Chief Bratton also discussed the danger of excessive parole agent caseloads, as well as overall policing improvements that began in the 1990s, including more and better problem-solving tactics, more quality-of-life initiatives and the development of COMPSTAT with its emphasis on accountability and use of timely, accurate intelligence to conduct “smarter” policing.

“The main criminal justice concerns for policy makers today revolve around the threat posed by gangs rather than traditional organized crime, continued problems with the corrections system in general and with the seemingly intractable problem of mass incarceration, a fractured and unrealistic national drug policy and a lack of protection of the individual rights and treatment of the mentally ill,” said Chief Bratton. In reference to the imprisonment of drug abusers and the mentally ill, Chief Bratton told the Commission that treatment should be favored over incarceration.

Additionally, Chief Bratton recommended addressing the “precursors” of violence in the home, such as domestic violence, negative parenting and acceptance of gang culture.  He acknowledged that policing in a free society has become much more complicated and demanding as law enforcement attempts to meet the diverse expectations of citizens and elected leaders, and copes with policing changes since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

In spite of the challenging work ahead, Chief Bratton is very supportive of the commission. “At the end of the Commission’s work, it is my hope that we will have carefully studied the role of policing in the United States from all angles and all perspectives,” he said.  “The commission’s report back to Congress and the American people should anticipate future challenges to policing and issue clear and strong recommendations to enhance the safety and security of the people of the United States.  In that way, the Commission’s work will help the entire criminal justice system become stronger and function better for society.”

Chief Bratton’s testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs can be read in its entirety by clicking here.