Op-Ed: Violent Crime and Civil Rights Are Intertwined Priorities

U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade, Eastern District of MichiganImproving the quality of life for our citizens is the goal at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Among our priorities is reducing violent crime and protecting civil rights, both of which are essential to improving public safety.  In addition to using the legal process in the courtroom, we are also working outside the courtroom to achieve these goals.

First, reducing violent crime is essential to making our community a place where people want to live, go to school and do business.  Last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office created the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Partnership, a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors, to combat violent crime in the City of Detroit.  Our prosecutors are focusing on firearms offenses, violent street gangs, armed robbers and carjackers, so that residents can feel safe in our neighborhoods.

Prosecution is only part of the equation for reducing violent crime.  We are also working to prevent violent crime.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office has partnered with the City of Detroit to develop a long-term plan to reduce youth violence.  The City’s plan brings together stakeholders from the business, faith, non-profit, education, public health, youth and law enforcement communities.  Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Police Chief Ralph Godbee presented the plan at a recent forum in Washington, D.C., where it was received with great enthusiasm.  The plan employs innovative practices and strategies that have been successful elsewhere, such as early intervention when young people engage in illegal activity and positive alternatives to expulsion for students who must be removed from the classroom when they are disruptive.

Another priority that is intertwined with public safety is civil rights.  Our new Civil Rights Unit has been working with the Detroit Police Department to obtain compliance with Consent Decrees that resulted from lawsuits filed by our U.S. Attorney’s Office.  Many improvements have already been made, and the pace of compliance has increased rapidly in recent months under the leadership of Mayor Bing and Chief Godbee.  Ultimately, improvements will include operational cameras in patrol cars, improved training for officers, and an early warning system that will identify officers who need additional training, discipline or commendation as a result of their performance.  Full compliance will make the Detroit Police Department a national model for best police practices.

In addition to our work in the courtroom, we are working in the community to improve public trust and equal justice.  Under the leadership of the federal bench, our office is working to improve minority representation on juries.  We recognize that it is important to public confidence in the criminal justice system that the composition of juries reflect the demographics of the community.  We are also calling upon all citizens to step up and serve when called for jury duty.

As part of our efforts to improve public trust, we have participated in town hall meetings and other public forums to listen to the concerns of the community.  We understand the importance of being accountable to our citizens regarding how we are spending taxpayer funds.  We also want to ensure that everyone is receiving the full protection of the Constitution and the laws of the United States. 

We also seek to improve public trust by employing a more diverse workforce.  As part of Attorney General Eric Holder’s diversity initiative, our office has hired attorneys from various backgrounds.  We believe that our office is more effective when we reflect the diversity of the community we serve.  The likelihood of success at trial improves when charging decisions are informed by different perspectives around the table, each offering their own views of how a jury might see our case.  

These priorities are all connected.  We are hopeful that by enforcing civil rights and by improving public trust, citizens will share information with law enforcement.  As a result, together, we will improve public safety for our community.