AG Barr Unveils National Commission to Study Law Enforcement, Justice System

January 22, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

Attorney General William Barr launched a national commission on Wednesday aimed at addressing problems confronting law enforcement that impact their ability to police in the community.

The Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice was first announced in late October last year after President Donald Trump signed an executive order designating Barr to form the commission to study the issues plaguing law enforcement and the administration of justice. The commission will meet monthly and submit a report with recommendations based on their review.

A similar panel with the same name was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and left the legacy of creating the 911 emergency number and improved training for police departments. The panel from the 60s offered more than 200 recommendations (pdf) for a “safer and more just society.”

The commission will conduct most of its study through panel presentations, field visits, hearings, and meetings. They will also draw expertise from academia, officials, private citizens, community organizations, civil liberties groups, bar associations, and victims, who could provide important insights on the issues.

A focus of the commission’s study will be looking at the challenges law enforcement officers face associated with their mental and physical health, such as police officer suicide. Barr underscored in his speech that the number of police officers who died by suicide last year was alarming. Nationwide, the risk of suicide among police officers is 54 percent greater than other workers (pdf), according to a 2019 analysis of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data presented by Dr. John Violanti, who researches police stress and suicide.

The panel has also been recommended to study other areas including obstacles officers are presented with due to changing technology and a trend of social problems such as homelessness, mental illness, and drug addictions. They may also examine best practices for recruiting, training, and retaining law enforcement officers, the impact of progressive state and local prosecutors on law enforcement, and the need to promote public confidence and respect for the law and officers.

“This commission is critical not only because it is timely but also because few callings are more essential to the strength and prosperity of our nation than that of law enforcement,” Barr said. “It is the rule of law that is fundamental to ensuring both freedom and security and it is our more than 900,000 men and women on the beat every day who uphold the rule of law.”

“There is no nobler calling in America than serving as a law enforcement officer,” he added.

Barr has appointed a number of federal and state officials to the commission to carry out the tasks, including FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich. The commission will be chaired by the Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Phil Keith, alongside vice-chair Katharine Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs.

The commission has about 10 months to complete the work, as stipulated by the executive order, which says the panel’s report must be submitted to the president within a year of Oct. 28, 2019—the date the order was signed.

President Trump said in his speech announcing the executive order last year that his administration is committed to standing up for law enforcement, while touting his successes in reducing crime.

“Under this administration, we are once again standing up for law enforcement, we’re condemning anti-police bias in all forms, and we’re giving you the support, resources, and the respect—and we have tremendous respect for you—the respect that you deserve,” he said.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan