President Trump signed an executive order to establish the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice – the first commission on law enforcement in half a century.
Statement from Attorney General Barr on the Establishment of the Presidential Commission
January 22, 2020
Today I am proud to establish the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. Under Executive Order No. 13896 signed by President Trump, it is my responsibility and honor to establish this Commission, which will serve the important function of studying ways to make American law enforcement the most trusted and effective guardians of our communities.
There is perhaps no profession more important and noble than serving as a law enforcement officer. While our armed services garner much deserved appreciation for keeping us safe from foreign threats, we must remember we owe our safety and peace here at home to law enforcement. Whether a citizen needs protection from a criminal, or simply needs urgent help from danger—an officer or deputy gets the call to put their own safety on the line to ensure ours.
It is a noble job, and it is a difficult one as well—perhaps more so today than ever before. New advancements have presented new challenges, as the prosperity we have enjoyed from modern technology has also produced a modern breed of criminal with ever-evolving tools to commit and conceal crimes. The proliferation of synthetic opioids, the exploitation of victims in cyberspace, and the digital concealment of criminal activity through encryption and the dark web, are but a few examples of the changing threats law enforcement must face.
Yet the challenges facing the men and women of law enforcement do not come only from criminals. As the guarantors of public safety—the first duty of government—law enforcement officers now are expected to deal with social ills that they often lack the authority or expertise to remedy. Our collective failures to care for those who suffer from drug addiction and mental illness have pushed these problems to the street for officers and deputies to manage. We have done so, moreover, with the contradictory expectation that law enforcement should confront these problems without enforcing the law.
Most troubling, there is a continued lack of trust and respect for law enforcement that persists in many communities. So while it is important that we always strive to better our police, police also deserve better from us. Nobody wins when law enforcement do not have the trust of the people they protect.
The job of a cop is tougher now than ever before; and the expectation for a cop’s responsibilities to blur the lines between law enforcement and public health is more pronounced now than ever before. Law enforcement must use every tool available to fight ever more ruthless and sophisticated criminal predators, and then put those tools away to mediate the criminal actions of people beset by addiction, mental illness, homelessness, and other forms of social alienation. And they must manage these demands in an environment in which their moral and legal legitimacy is under constant attack from a variety of voices. It is not surprising and indeed tragic that many current law enforcement officers suffer from decreased morale and emotional distress. I am sad to state that a record number of U.S. police officers died by suicide last year.
Therefore, we are establishing this Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement to study crime—how we can reduce it and how we can restore the public confidence in law enforcement to its rightful place. The Commission will examine the following:
- How do certain social ills such as mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness affect the ability of law enforcement to police?
- How can we improve officer recruitment, training, and retention?
- What are the major issues confronting rural and tribal law enforcement?
- What are the major issues affecting the physical safety and mental health of police officers?
- How can federal grant programs aide state, local, and tribal law enforcement?
- What novel issues and criminal threats have arisen from new technologies?
- What is the cause of diminished respect for law enforcement and the laws they enforce, and how does it affect both police and public safety?
- What role can commercial business and community development organizations play in cultivating safe communities?
- What methodologies, techniques, and targeted deterrence can be employed to reduce crime?
- How can we integrate education, employment, social services, and public health services to reduce crime and ease the burden on law enforcement?
In studying these issues, the Commission will be assisted by “working groups.” These working groups will consist of subject matter experts across the federal and state government and have a particularized focus on distinct issues the Commission will review (e.g. “Technology”). They will assist and facilitate the Commission’s study of these issues, and provide advice and counsel on their specific subject. The working groups, which will include our federal partners from the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and other federal agencies, will provide much needed expertise and insight on the important issues affecting law enforcement. This Commission requires a team effort. Such a rich variety of federal and state government participation is essential to the work at hand. Once the Commission completes its study, it will recommend the best measures to empower American law enforcement to combat the criminal threats of our time, and to restore the utmost public confidence in our law enforcement to protect and serve.
At its core, this Commission is for law enforcement and the purpose of bettering the profession, but it is important that we hear from voices and consult perspectives outside of law enforcement. Civil rights organizations, civic leaders, defense bar associations, victims’ rights organizations, and community organizations, should and will help this important mission. They will have opportunities to provide advice, counsel and input to the Commission in its study of the relevant issues and solutions.
In forming the Commission, the Department of Justice has marshaled together the expertise and experiences of all sectors of the law enforcement community—urban police departments, county sheriffs, state attorneys general and prosecutors, elected officials, United States Attorneys, and federal law enforcement agencies. They come from distinct states, cities, counties, and towns across the country but share a common mission of safeguarding their respective communities from a variety of threats.
Addressing the serious issues confronting law enforcement remains a great challenge, but as current and former law enforcement officials at all levels, these Commissioners are accustomed to difficult jobs. I am confident they will serve with distinction and take significant actions towards the improvement of American policing.