Last week, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice completed its hearings on crime reduction, with a panel on technology tools for law enforcement, specifically “drones,” facial recognition technology, and body worn cameras, and a panel featuring survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. The Commission also held its first hearing on reentry. The hearings were held over three days via teleconference. Each teleconference featured expert witnesses who provided testimony and, subsequently, answered questions from the Commissioners.
On Tuesday, April 21, the Commission received testimony from Colonel Edwin Roessler Jr., Chief of the Fairfax County Police Department; Damon Mosler, Assistant District Attorney for San Diego County; Dr. Richard Vorder Bruegge, Senior Physical Scientist for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and; Kevin Jinks, Senior Counsel for the Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy.
Testimony and discussions focused on technology tools for law enforcement. Colonel Roessler and Assistant District Attorney Mosler discussed body worn cameras. Colonel Roessler stated, “The biggest need is the public accountability for community and the police officers in the body-worn camera program.” Assistant District Attorney Mosler testified that although “public perception and expectation have made it almost essential for law enforcement to have cameras given the public desire for transparency and accountability,” this trend poses new challenges for prosecutors and the entire criminal justice system due, in part, to the quantity of data collected. Dr. Vorder Bruegge spoke of “opportunities and challenges associated with the use of facial recognition to combat violent crime.” The final panelist, Mr. Jinks, discussed “how governments at all levels can first use UAS, or Unmanned Aerial Systems, also known as drones, to further our missions and second counter the threat posed by dangerous drones and their operators.”
On Wednesday, April 22, the Commission concluded its hearing on Crime Reduction with testimony from Joyce Bilyeu, Director of Client Services for the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center; Adrianna Griffith, SA/DV Specialist/Lived Experience Expert for the Women’s Center - Youth and Family Services; Bella Hounakey, Subject Matter Expert for the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, and; Natasha Alexenko, Founder of Natasha’s Justice Project.
Testimony and discussion featured the personal experiences of survivors of sexual and domestic violence and human trafficking. Director Bilyeu shared her story as a survivor of domestic violence. She stressed the challenges victims face to leave their abusers, noting that each time she tried to take control of her situation by calling the police, her husband spiraled further out of control and the abuse worsened. Ms. Griffith shared her experiences of witnessing abuse as a child and falling into the cycle of crime as a victim herself. She advocates for early social services intervention for children who experience/witness abuse so that they have the chance to lead healthy lives. Ms. Hounakey shared her story of being trafficked by her aunt from Togo to the United States at nine-years-old to work up to 18 hours a day. She described how trafficking victims are conditioned by their traffickers to not trust law enforcement. She explained how, in addition to the federal agents who rescued her in 2014, she would have liked to have been met by medics, social workers, and translators so that she and the other victims would have better understood their situation. Ms. Alexenko provided the final testimony of the day, sharing her story as a survivor of sexual assault at gunpoint. She waited 10 years for her rape kit to be tested and 15 years before her rapist would face a jury.
On Thursday, April 23, the Commission began its hearing on Reentry with testimony from Tony Lowden, Executive Director for the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry; Jason Hardy, Author of The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison, and Special Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; John Koufos, the National Director of Reentry Initiatives, Right on Crime, and; Grant Duwe, Director of Research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections.
Testimony and discussion focused on the state of reentry. Executive Director Lowden testified that “reentry is all about redemption & providing every opportunity for a person to be who they were created to be…Reducing the risk of a prisoner re-offending upon release is one of the most effective ways to ensure public safety.” Special Agent Hardy discussed the economic benefit to quality reentry programs: “Every dollar committed to reentry services at probation and parole agencies has the potential to return enormous taxpayer savings down the road.” Mr. Koufos offered similar testimony, stating: “Successful reentry empowers people to participate in meaningful work opportunities, which helps many pay child support and restitution, and strengthens tax bases.” Director Duwe provided the day’s final testimony, stressing that reentry begins the day a person walks into prison. He stated the need to focus time in prison on quality evidence-based programming and not simply warehousing people behind bars.
For more information on the Commission, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/ag/presidential-commission-law-enforcement-and-administration-justice
Audio recordings and transcripts of the hearings will be posted online once available.