Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

The country has a new attorney general and a new set of priorities for criminal justice in the United States. Jeffrey Sessions of Alabama was sworn in as attorney general on Feb. 9, 2017, and on the same day, President Trump issued three executive orders dealing with our country’s law enforcement. The clear direction of the new administration is toward the federalization of the prosecution of what has traditionally been state crime. Federalism requires the prosecution of most violent crime at the state level. We are concerned about the direction the Department of Justice is now being ordered to follow: a law-and-order approach highlighting gangs, crimes of violence, and violence against law enforcement officers. We are concerned because all three of these areas should be the focus of state and local law enforcement, not the U.S. attorney general. We urge our state authorities to make sure that Connecticut’s criminal justice system is not diverted from its mission by federal interference, and to keep community in the forefront of their efforts.

Connecticut’s criminal justice system has made significant inroads in the recent past. Community policing has expanded into community prosecution. Social workers assist public defenders in their duties. Both parole and juvenile justice reform has been effective; and the protection of women, children, and elderly from violence has been a high priority. Police and prosecutors receive forensic training enabling them to solve and sometimes prevent violent crime. It is important that Connecticut keep on this road forward, because community safety starts and ends at the local level, not in Washington. It always has.

The new attorney general was confirmed and sworn into office amid turmoil and a sharp change in direction for the Department of Justice. From the firing of Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Yates for refusing to enforce the president’s executive order on travel and immigration, to the silencing of Elizabeth Warren for quoting from the late Coretta Scott King, the confirmation of Attorney General Sessions was tumultuous. Just before the attorney general was sworn in to lead the Department of Justice, the president announced three separate executive orders: “Presidential Executive Order on a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety”; “Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers”; and “Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking.” A reading of these orders reveals a focus on violent crimes, most of which have typically been charged and prosecuted on the state and county level.

This focus is a dramatic change from the prior administration’s focus on community policing and efforts to build trust with minority and disenfranchised groups. Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offered resources to help state and local criminal justice agencies, as opposed to encroaching on some core functions of state and local government.

Even in discussing transnational gangs, the executive order highlighted state and local crime: “They, for example, have been known to commit brutal murders, rapes, and other barbaric acts.”

The chaotic launch of Sessions’ tenure in office is hopefully not a bellwether for a broader national chaos in criminal justice. There are rumblings about enforcing federal marijuana laws that are in direct conflict with the laws of many states, and the DOJ has just backed off its former stand on transgender bathroom use. We urge Connecticut’s police and prosecutors to hold their course. So long as Connecticut’s officials continue to do their jobs as they have been, our citizens will be protected and assured there is no need for panic around the incidence of violent crime in our state.•

The country has a new attorney general and a new set of priorities for criminal justice in the United States. Jeffrey Sessions of Alabama was sworn in as attorney general on Feb. 9, 2017, and on the same day, President Trump issued three executive orders dealing with our country’s law enforcement. The clear direction of the new administration is toward the federalization of the prosecution of what has traditionally been state crime. Federalism requires the prosecution of most violent crime at the state level. We are concerned about the direction the Department of Justice is now being ordered to follow: a law-and-order approach highlighting gangs, crimes of violence, and violence against law enforcement officers. We are concerned because all three of these areas should be the focus of state and local law enforcement, not the U.S. attorney general. We urge our state authorities to make sure that Connecticut’s criminal justice system is not diverted from its mission by federal interference, and to keep community in the forefront of their efforts.

Connecticut’s criminal justice system has made significant inroads in the recent past. Community policing has expanded into community prosecution. Social workers assist public defenders in their duties. Both parole and juvenile justice reform has been effective; and the protection of women, children, and elderly from violence has been a high priority. Police and prosecutors receive forensic training enabling them to solve and sometimes prevent violent crime. It is important that Connecticut keep on this road forward, because community safety starts and ends at the local level, not in Washington. It always has.

The new attorney general was confirmed and sworn into office amid turmoil and a sharp change in direction for the Department of Justice. From the firing of Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Yates for refusing to enforce the president’s executive order on travel and immigration, to the silencing of Elizabeth Warren for quoting from the late Coretta Scott King, the confirmation of Attorney General Sessions was tumultuous. Just before the attorney general was sworn in to lead the Department of Justice, the president announced three separate executive orders: “Presidential Executive Order on a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety”; “Presidential Executive Order on Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers”; and “Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking.” A reading of these orders reveals a focus on violent crimes, most of which have typically been charged and prosecuted on the state and county level.

This focus is a dramatic change from the prior administration’s focus on community policing and efforts to build trust with minority and disenfranchised groups. Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offered resources to help state and local criminal justice agencies, as opposed to encroaching on some core functions of state and local government.

Even in discussing transnational gangs, the executive order highlighted state and local crime: “They, for example, have been known to commit brutal murders, rapes, and other barbaric acts.”

The chaotic launch of Sessions’ tenure in office is hopefully not a bellwether for a broader national chaos in criminal justice. There are rumblings about enforcing federal marijuana laws that are in direct conflict with the laws of many states, and the DOJ has just backed off its former stand on transgender bathroom use. We urge Connecticut’s police and prosecutors to hold their course. So long as Connecticut’s officials continue to do their jobs as they have been, our citizens will be protected and assured there is no need for panic around the incidence of violent crime in our state.•