(STL.News) – This week, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice continued to hold hearings on crime reduction, with panelists speaking about domestic violence and sexual assault, technology issues encountered by law enforcement, and leveraging technology to reduce crime. The hearings were held over three days via teleconference. Each teleconference featured a panel of expert witnesses who provided testimony and, subsequently, answered questions from the Commissioners.
On Tuesday, April 14, the Commission received testimony from Matthew Gamette, Director of Forensic Services, Idaho State Police; Kim Garrett, CEO of Palomar, Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center; Richard Hertel, Prosecutor for Ripley County, Indiana, and; Robert Hawkins, Muscogee Creek Nation Police Chief.
Testimony and discussions focused on preventing and reducing domestic violence and sexual assault. Director Gamette addressed the issue of forensic resources: “[I]n this country, for every one case we report, we get 1.5 cases back into the laboratory. To solve DNA backlogs, we need more scientists, bigger facilities, and funding. Turnaround time is directly proportional to lab staffing.” In response to a question regarding reports of increased allegations of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Garrett stated that Oklahoma City had experienced a 28 percent increase in domestic violence calls to police and detailed the City’s response to the crisis. Mr. Hertel spoke about the lack of criminal charges brought in domestic violence and sexual assault cases, either because of underreporting or case attrition. He advocated for a victim-centered approach to prosecutions. Chief Hawkins detailed the complexities of prosecuting domestic violence and sexual assault cases under tribal law and the challenges tribal governments face in providing essential services for victims.
On Wednesday, April 15, in a two-part session on technology issues encountered by law enforcement, the Commission heard testimony from Darrin Jones, Executive Assistant Director for Science and Technology for the FBI; Cyrus R. Vance Jr., District Attorney for New York County (New York); Chuck Cohen, Vice President of the National White Collar Crime Center; Bryan Stirling, Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, and; Todd Craig, Chief of the Office of Security Technology for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In part one of the hearing, testimony and discussion focused on lawful access and the dark web. DA Vance and Mr. Jones both stressed the need for federal legislation to achieve lawful access. Mr. Jones stated, “The impact and magnitude of the lawful access crisis in the United States has grown to a point where the public safety trade-off to the citizens of this country can and should no longer be made privately and independently in the corporate boardrooms of tech companies.” Vice President Cohen discussed the corruption of technology by criminals: “[W]hat is true is criminals tend to be early adopters of emerging technology and to subvert emerging technology to facilitate and obfuscate criminal activities. And this is especially true for online child sexual exploitation and online sex trafficking.”
The second part of the hearing focused on contraband cellphones and other technology issues concerning security in jails and prisons. Director Stirling and Chief Craig stressed that inmates, although physically removed from the public, are still able to continue to commit crimes if they have access to a cellphone, such as drug dealing, gang activity, and even murder – as was the case in a fatal shooting orchestrated behind bars of a correctional officer whose responsibility it was to remove contraband cellphones from prison.
On Thursday, April 16, the Commission heard testimony from Tom Ruocco, Chief of Criminal Law Enforcement, Texas Department of Public Safety; Oxford (Alabama) Police Chief Bill Partridge; Christopher Amon, Chief of the Firearms Operations Division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and; David LeValley, Assistant Chief, Detroit Police Department.
Testimony and discussion focused on leveraging technology to aid law enforcement. Chief Ruocco discussed the need to identify and integrate “new technologies and methodologies into [law enforcement] procedures and work flows.” Chief Partridge explained that because smaller jurisdictions do not have the same technology capacity as larger departments, a regional model of crime centers can be a force multiplier for fighting crime in all areas of a county. Chief Amon discussed the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which compares ballistic imaging of bullet casings and provides actionable leads to law enforcement. He stressed that due to the high probability of shooters to reoffend, law enforcement must be able to identify them swiftly. “[NIBIN] allows investigators to identify crime guns using cutting edge technology and trace their origin quickly.” Assistant Chief LeValley spoke about Project Green Light Detroit, the first public-private community partnership of its kind. The Project is a mix of real-time crime fighting and community policing aimed at improving neighborhood safety and also while revitalizing and growing local business.