AG Barr announces federal crackdown on Detroit crime, MDOC wasn’t given notice

President Donald J. Trump holds the newly signed executive order on the Commission on Law enforcement and the Administration of Justice Monday, Oct. 28, 2019 while posing with Law enforcement and Attorney General William Barr at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and Exposition at the McCormick Place Convention Center Chicago in Chicago. | Official White House Photo: Shealah Craighead, Flickr

A new President Trump administration initiative will soon bulk up the presence of federal law enforcement in Detroit and set the scene for more “tough on crime” policing tactics in the city.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report as U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein listens at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr traveled to Detroit to announce the launch of a major federal program called “Operation Relentless Pursuit.” The initiative will deploy additional manpower and federal funding to “some of America’s toughest cities” – Detroit included – in an effort to reduce violent crime.

This came as Trump is set to hold his first 2020 campaign event in Michigan since March. He and Vice President Mike Pence are scheduled to hold a Wednesday night “Merry Christmas” rally in Battle Creek.

The new federal program presents a stark contrast with state policies. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has placed an emphasis on “smart on crime” policies, focusing more on prevention and rehabilitation efforts and less on punishment. 

The GOP-led Legislature also has focused on a plethora of criminal justice reforms.

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In an op-ed published in the Detroit News on Tuesday, Barr wrote that the uptick in America’s violent crime rates in 2015 and 2016 can be attributed to “‘reforms’ that offered leniency to violent offenders, an explosion of anti-police rhetoric, and a surge in assaults on police officers.” 

He praised Trump’s return to “tough on crime” policies as the reason for lowered violent crime rates in 2017 and 2018.

But no data links an increase in violent crime to criminal justice reforms that favor rehabilitation over punishment. In fact, research has shown that more preventative and rehabilitative approaches to criminal justice often lead to better outcomes overall.

In a town hall on Tuesday, state Attorney General Dana Nessel decried “tough on crime” policies and praised Michigan’s recent progress on criminal justice reforms that focus on education and career training for inmates.

Through the U.S. Department of Justice, Operation Relentless Pursuit will connect all four federal law enforcement agencies – the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Marshals Service – to designated cities with high crime rates. 

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Barr says that “updated and enhanced crime-fighting techniques,” including the use of new technologies and the help of federal agents, will be deployed to take violent offenders and criminal organizations off the streets.

“We’re matching our rhetoric with resources by committing significant manpower and up to $71 million in additional funding for our federal, state, and local partners,” Barr said.

In an email, MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said he had no prior knowledge of the program’s launch. Gautz also said that it is unclear how much the MDOC would be involved in the initiative, if at all, since the allocation of federal resources likely means a crackdown on those specifically committing federal crimes.

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“We certainly support efforts to reduce crime, but there are many ways to do that,” Gautz said. “At the MDOC, we view our role as working to create long-term public safety by helping to turn around the lives of those who are sent to us by the courts. We learn what their risks and needs are and then put them in programming and in educational opportunities that put them on a better path. Upon release, we ensure they have proper housing, community supports and employment opportunities so that they don’t see the benefit in returning to a life of crime.

“I would be interested to learn more about this new federal initiative and whether there are parts of it we had interest in, or if there are things we are doing that the federal government could learn from,” Gautz added.

Gautz also notes that although Detroit remains the nation’s most violent city, FBI crime data released in September showed a drop in violent crime last year.