Trump: Drop the rhetoric, turn to smart policy to reform criminal justice
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We need criminal justice policies that are sensible, fair, and evidence-based. But in an era of alternative facts when politicians think that policies can be devised through baseless speculation and unsubstantiated calculations, it may seem that you can just make up policies on the fly. 

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE has made repeated inaccurate statements about the state of urban America and the nature of crime in the United States. He has frequently painted American cities with large and sloppy brush strokes, ignoring the many cities that have managed to maintain low crime rates while scaling back authoritarian policing practices.

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It is in the face of this false narrative about crime and what our cities need that criminal justice reformers must continue to push for criminal justice reform and smart policies. The good news is that the facts are on our side. While there has been a minor uptick in murder rates in several major cities, crime remains at historic low levels. There has been much speculation about why some cities have been experiencing an increase in crime and others have remained steady or even decreased.

Notably, several of the cities that have experienced increases of crime have a history of tense relationships between law enforcement and the communities

This is not surprising because how can there be real community safety if community members fear the law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect them? Ensuring that law enforcement agencies are accountable and transparent will go a long way toward improving the community’s perception of the agencies, and consequently the legitimacy of those police departments. 

Cities like New York City have managed to maintain historically low crime rates despite drastically reducing aggressive policing practices that are premised on a so-called “broken windows” approach to policing.

New York City has managed to reduce stop and frisk practices, while simultaneously reducing crime, demonstrating that community safety can be enhanced by treating community members with more dignity and respecting their human rights.

The truth is adopting an overly aggressive approach to policing, and criminal justice policies in general, simply does not work. 

Despite this, Donald Trump has threatened to support a series of ineffective and outdated law enforcement practices such as stop and frisk, while relying on unsubstantiated narratives about urban crime in America. While sensationalism might win him a few media sound bites and additional press, it is no way to go about making sound criminal justice policies. 

Aggressive policing practices such as stop and frisk and citations for low-level offense have been shown to be ineffective at significantly reducing crime, although they are very effective at alienating the community members they presumably aim to protect.

Fortunately, there are policies that have been proven to actually improve safety and that are supported by evidence. Providing mental health services, opting for alternatives to incarceration, relying on police practices that are rooted in collaboration rather than confrontation, adopting a harm reduction approach when dealing with drug-related offenses, and ensuring that there is a positive and cooperative relationship between community members and law enforcement ensure that everyone is safer.

In communities where there is already a deep mistrust of the police, such as Chicago, the federal government should provide incentives that repair that relationship not threaten brute force and militarization to create further harm and alienation. 

India Thusi is the associate counsel for The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab. She has litigated cases on policing and structural inequality in the criminal justice system. Follow her on Twitter @inGerri, and the Opportunity Agenda @oppagenda


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