Guest post: crime and policing

Guest blogger and Temple Law student Samantha Ramagano shares her thoughts on the second panel in our “Making Sense of the Legal Headlines” series.

In January, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that the Department of Justice investigation of the Chicago Police Department had found “a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force” in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  Only a little more than a month later, new Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DOJ would be scaling back on investigations of police departments.

This policy shift seemed like a step backwards for civil rights and the Department’s push to end racial discrimination and the use of excessive force by police department nationwide. (A history of DOJ’s work in this area is here.) Not knowing how the new administration would affect efforts at reforming policing in my own community of Philadelphia, I found myself looking for answers at the Sheller Center’s “Crime and Policing” panel discussion last week.

The message I took away from the event was a hopeful, albeit complicated one: real reform should not focus on policing alone, but on the entire criminal justice system. Because reform requires a holistic approach, potentially harmful policy decisions and rhetoric at the federal level will not derail the process, although they could slow it down.

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Ramsey summed it up well when he said that the focus of reform cannot be on policing alone. While that may be the aspect of criminal justice reform that gets the most media scrutiny, there are other aspects of the system that are just as much in need of attention.

Luckily, these are areas in which we, the public, can make a real difference.  For example, Meg Reiss, from the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, noted that prosecutors at the local level are publicly elected officials, so paying attention to these elections is extremely important, as well as continuing to hold these officials accountable between election cycles. The point is, not all hope is lost and while the road may be long, a more holistic approach to criminal justice reform will pay off in the long run, as long as we are all willing to put in the work.