William Barr and Trump
Attorney General William Barr and the President. Credit: White House/Wikimedia Commons

Last October, Trump signed an executive order directing the attorney general to establish a Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. As Tom Jackman reported, this is something that both police and civil rights groups have sought for years. Nevertheless, concerns emerged almost immediately.

A number of groups that might be expected to be part of the discussion said they had not yet been invited, including the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Those who had advocated for such a commission were concerned about “overburdened courts, unsustainable incarceration costs, national security, prisoner reentry, victims’ rights, and civil rights and liberties.” But the tasks assigned to this commission are completely police-centric.

  • The challenges to law enforcement associated with mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse, and other social factors that influence crime and strain criminal justice resources;
  • The recruitment, hiring, training, and retention of law enforcement officers, including in rural and tribal communities;
  • Refusals by State and local prosecutors to enforce laws or prosecute categories of crimes;
  • The need to promote public confidence and respect for the law and law enforcement officers; and
  • The effects of technological innovations on law enforcement and the criminal justice system, including the challenges and opportunities presented by such innovations.

On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr announced the formation of this commission. Here are the members he chose.

  • Chair: Phil Keith, Director, Community Oriented Policing Services
  • Vice-Chair: Katharine Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs
  • David Bowdich, Deputy Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Donald Washington, Director, United States Marshals Services
  • Regina Lombardo, Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives
  • Erica Macdonald, United States Attorney, District Of Minnesota
  • D. Christopher Evans, Chief of Operations, Drug Enforcement Administration
  • James Clemmons, Sheriff, Richmond County, North Carolina
  • Frederick Frazier, City Council, McKinney, Texas/ Police Officer, Dallas Police Department
  • Robert Gualtieri, Sheriff, Pinellas County, Florida
  • Gina Hawkins, Chief of Police, Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • Ashley Moody, Florida Attorney General
  • Nancy Parr, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Chesapeake, Virginia
  • Craig Price, South Dakota Secretary of Public Safety
  • Gordon Ramsay, Chief of Police, Wichita, Kansas
  • David B. Rausch, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • John Samaniego, Sheriff, Shelby County, Alabama
  • James Smallwood, Police Officer, Nashville Metropolitan Police Department

The first thing to notice is that there is no one on the commission representing civil rights, public defenders, or community groups. Seven of the members are employees of the Justice Department, including the chair, and all of them were appointed during the Trump administration. For example, David Bowdich became deputy director of the FBI when Andrew McCabe was fired. He then went on to fire Peter Strzok.

The rest of the group’s members are either law enforcement officers or prosecutors. For those who have publicly identified their party affiliation, all are Republican. For example, former Florida Governor Rick Scott first appointed Robert Gualtieri as interim sheriff of Pinellas County and Ashley Moody replaced Pam Bondi as Florida’s Attorney General.

I suspect that this commission will probably be better-managed than the one Trump appointed to study voter fraud. But what the two have in common is that they have been established with an end product in mind. The goal will be to find a rationale to justify conclusions they already have in common.

The same attorney general who appointed these commissioners is the one who recently said that communities that don’t show enough respect for law enforcement could find themselves without police protection. I don’t mean to be too alarmist, but I don’t think that William Barr is the kind of man who makes idle threats. It is very possible that this commission could lay the groundwork for him to carry that one out.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.