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Enhancing Law Enforcement and Adjudication Initiatives

OJP continues to promote innovation in law enforcement and adjudication in states and counties, as well as to support efforts that enhance confidence in criminal justice processes, improve productivity of law enforcement agencies, target violence that is disproportionate to national trends, and promote the interaction of the police with their communities in positive and productive partnerships.

DEPLOYING PROSECUTORS TO THE COMMUNITY

Community prosecution is a strategy being implemented by an increasing number of prosecutors around the country. A basic premise behind this approach to prosecution is the realization that a prosecutor is more than a mere case processor, simply waiting for matters to be presented for resolution. Rather, a prosecutor can be much more effective if he or she enters into partnerships with the community and other law enforcement entities and engages in a problem-solving approach to law enforcement. While community prosecution programs or projects differ from one jurisdiction to another, this collaborative, problem-solving approach is what makes this strategy different from other prosecution initiatives.

A number of jurisdictions have been involved in community prosecution efforts for many years with little or no federal resources to support those efforts. For instance, community prosecution has been in Portland, Oregon for almost 10 years. The amount of interest generated at the local level for this approach to prosecution has grown substantially. The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) and many state attorneys general are actively involved in community prosecution.

Community prosecution is a key element to increasing a community's confidence in the justice system. Community prosecutors work directly with neighborhood residents and organizations in the communities they serve. In FY 2000, BJA awarded Community Prosecution grants totaling more than $8 million to 61 communities. These grants will foster collaborative efforts between local prosecutors' offices and the community to identify local priorities and develop and implement strategic crime prevention and reduction plans. The grants also will help communities plan, implement, or enhance community prosecution strategies. In FY 1999, BJA provided approximately $5 million to 40 jurisdictions. The FY 2000 grants awarded bring the number of federally funded community prosecution initiatives to almost 100.

Community prosecution programs are spread throughout a variety of prosecutors' offices across the country, from tribal prosecutor offices to some of the largest district attorney offices to state attorney general offices. BJA provided more than $300,000 in funds to provide technical assistance and training for the new grantees, a portion of which is being provided by the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI), the training and research component of NDAA. APRI has also developed a community prosecution course that it offers to prosecutors at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina.

Complementary to OJP's community prosecution effort is BJA's Community Court Initiative. In January 1998, New York City's Midtown Community Court was the only community court in the United States. Midtown Community Court succeeded by asking a new set of questions about the role of the court in a community's daily life. What can a court do to solve neighborhood problems? What can courts bring to the table beyond their coercive power and symbolic presence? And what roles can community residents, businesses, and service providers play in improving justice?

By March 2000, nearly a dozen community courts had opened across the country in cities in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas. Another 13 communities, many using BJA grants, are planning to open courts in the near future. The courts that followed Midtown are answering these questions in different ways, but they also seek a set of common, important goals. All of them have implemented a new way of doing business that imposes immediate, meaningful sanctions on offenders, truly engages the community, and helps offenders address problems that are at the root of their criminal behavior. BJA funds the Center for Court Innovation to provide assistance to these courts through publications, on-site training, and the Center's Website, www.communityjustice.org.

ADVANCING AND IMPROVING PROSECUTION

As the number of juvenile gun offenders increases, the need for a more focused, coordinated response to reducing youth gun violence is becoming more apparent. An innovative program by the King County, Washington Prosecutor's Office and the Seattle Police led to quicker handling of juvenile firearm offense cases and an increased conviction rate. During the first eight months of the program, the average number of days handling a firearm case dropped from 53 to 17, while the conviction rate rose from 65 percent to 78 percent. The Seattle program is part of the city's Youth Handgun Violence Initiative, which was funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). This program is profiled in Seattle's Effective Strategy for Prosecuting Juvenile Firearm Offenders, a bulletin released from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in March 2000.

According to the bulletin, the Seattle program emphasizes:

As a result of this program's approach, delays and backlogs in filing juvenile firearm cases were eliminated, while the quality of information provided to prosecutors was substantially improved. These improvements led to a 50 percent drop in the dismissal rate for juvenile firearms cases. The Seattle program was also profiled in OJJDP's report, Promising Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence.

Eyewitnesses frequently play a vital role in uncovering the truth about a crime. The evidence they provide can be critical in identifying, charging, and ultimately convicting suspected criminals. Recent cases in which DNA evidence has been used to exonerate individuals convicted primarily on the basis of eyewitness testimony have shown that eyewitness evidence is not infallible. In October 1999, NIJ released Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement. This guide was produced with the participation of criminal justice professionals who served on the Technical Working Group for Eyewitness Evidence. These 34 individuals brought together knowledge and practical expertise from jurisdictions large and small across the United States and Canada.

ENSURING FAIRNESS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT

Although serious cases of abuse of police authority have raised questions and been debated in recent years, little is known about how police officers themselves view these critical issues. According to two studies released by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in June 2000, a majority of law enforcement officers in the United States find incidents of excessive force unacceptable and believe that police should be held accountable and punished for inappropriate behavior.

Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority: Findings from a National Survey questioned more than 900 U.S. police officers regarding their attitudes about police abuse of authority. To assess these attitudes, researchers polled 925 randomly selected police officers from 121 departments. The officers were asked what types of abuse and attitudes toward abuse police observe in their departments and what strategies or tactics are effective in preventing officers from abusing authority.

The majority responded that:

The second study, The Measurement of Police Integrity, surveyed officers in 30 police agencies nationwide to explore organizational influences on police behavior. In this study, the researchers drew the following conclusions about the perception of police integrity:

These findings support what we already know - that the behavior of our nation's law enforcement officers is guided by principled decision making. And, any incidence of unethical behavior or inappropriate use of force is unacceptable. These two policing studies also give us direction about the tools that supervisors and line officers need to foster sound decision making. Factors such as strong leadership from police chiefs and supervisors, as well as training in ethics and diversity, can help prevent inappropriate behavior or excessive use of force on the streets.

IMPROVING INDIGENT DEFENSE

Studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of defendants charged with felonies in this country rely on a public defender or assigned counsel for legal representation because they are too poor to hire private attorneys on their own. All individuals charged with an offense should receive fair and effective representation. Two new reports on indigent defense systems were released in May 2000 by OJP to provide examples of how the criminal justice system can meet this goal.

The first publication, Report of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense, presents the results of a 1999 two-day conference that addressed the issue of equal justice for all those charged with a criminal offense, especially those who cannot afford to pay the cost of representation. The second publication, Contracting for Indigent Defense Systems: A Special Report, funded by BJA, examines the major issues surrounding the planning, implementation, and use of contracting in indigent defense systems as an alternative to using assigned counsel programs or public defender offices.

BJA seeks to bring more balance to the criminal justice system by giving indigent defense more visibility, funding, and information tools. In FY 2000, BJA supported projects in Arizona, Georgia, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas under the Emerging Issues in Indigent Defense Management and Technology Program that improves case management practices and building capacity to access technology. This program represents the first grant opportunity in decades specifically targeting defenders.

BJA also supported the work of several organizations that provide technical assistance to indigent defense practitioners. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association continues its work to help state and local indigent defense organizations improve the quality of indigent representation in the United States. The Vera Institute of Justice provided training to defender managers through the National Defender Leadership Project to become more active participants in policy planning and development. BJA funded and disseminated two reports by The Spangenberg Group that focused national attention on major challenges facing the indigent defense community.

SUPPORTING LAW ENFORCEMENT

In the course of interacting with community groups and criminal justice practitioners, we have learned that many agencies at the state and local level need funds to assist their personnel in dealing successfully with violent crime and serious offenders. In FY 2000, BJA awarded a total of $500 million to all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia under its Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program for combating violent and drug-related crime. The Byrne program is authorized by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (as amended) and award amounts are based on each state's population. States make subawards to units of local government and nonprofit agencies and funds must be used in accordance with legislatively authorized purpose areas, including multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, criminal justice records improvement, crime prevention, and drug treatment and education.

More than 3,100 local jurisdictions received Local Law Enforcement Block Grants (LLEBG) totaling nearly $400 million in FY 2000 to help them reduce crime and improve public safety. The funds can be used to hire police officers, improve security in and around schools, purchase law enforcement equipment and technology, enhance the adjudication of violent offenders, and for other public safety efforts. The LLEBG program awards its funds based on a formula derived from Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data.

To be considered eligible for the LLEBG Program, a jurisdiction must report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's UCR program. The determining variable within the LLEBG formula is the number of UCR Part I violent crimes reported by a jurisdiction to the FBI. In short, the formula is based on the premise that areas with higher crime rates need more funds.

Public safety officers face numerous risks in their daily jobs. In FY 2000, BJA assisted over 3,500 law enforcement agencies across the nation obtain bulletproof vests. Through the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Program, BJA distributed $25 million to jurisdictions nationwide to provide for up to half the cost of bullet-resistant vests. Funding for over 180,000 bulletproof vests have been provided to state, county, and local law enforcement agencies in the program's two years. Each jurisdiction may purchase one vest per officer per year, and all vests must meet or exceed standards developed by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

The Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education (OPCLEE), which in November 1998 was transferred from the Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to OJP, provides college educational assistance to students who commit to public service in law enforcement, and scholarships to students with no service commitment, who are dependents of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.

In FY 2000, the Police Corps program added an additional 140 officers with advanced education and training to community patrol positions throughout participating states and territories. As of September 30, 2000, a total of 771 individuals were currently participating or had participated in the Police Corps program. Six additional states and territories - Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Minnesota, Virginia and America Samoa - initiated participation into the program in FY 2000. A total of 30 states and territories currently participate. The Mississippi Police Corps program became the first law enforcement training program in the nation to receive national certification for its emphasis on ethics instruction in its law enforcement training. The certification award was presented by the National Institute of Ethics (NIE), a non-profit organization that is the largest provider of law enforcement and corrections ethics training in the United States. The Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program, also administered by BJA, is designed to offer peace of mind to men and women seeking careers in public safety. The PSOB program provides financial benefits to survivors of police officers, firefighters, and emergency response personnel killed in the line of duty, and to those who are permanently and totally disabled in the line of duty. The program also collects information on line-of-duty deaths, which is used to enhance public safety officer training. In FY 2000, the PSOB program awarded nearly $30 million in death and disability benefits to surviving families of nearly 200 public safety officers. In 1999, Congress amended the Police, Fire, and Emergency Officers' Educational Assistance Act, which authorizes the Federal Law Enforcement Dependents' Assistance (FLEDA) program. In the past, the FLEDA program, administered by BJA, provided assistance for higher education to eligible survivors of federal police officers whose death or permanent disability occurred in the line of duty. The act was amended to allow for this assistance to apply to all federal, state, and local public safety officers, including federal police and firefighters, state and local law enforcement, and members of federal, state, and local public rescue squads. To reflect these changes, the title of the program was changed to the Public Safety Officers' Educational Assistance (PSOEA) program.

In January 2000, Congress amended the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to extend the retroactive financial assistance eligibility dates for higher education benefits to the families of public safety officers. In FY 2000, the PSOEA program awarded more than $40,000 in educational financial assistance to 16 families.

NIJ's Corrections and Law Enforcement Family Support Program is discovering innovative ways to prevent and treat the negative effects of stress experienced by law enforcement and correctional officers and their families. The program primarily consists of demonstration and research grants that are periodically awarded to state and local law enforcement and corrections agencies or organizations (e.g., unions and associations) representing law enforcement and corrections personnel. In FY 2000, two grants were awarded for research into officer and family stress issues and four grants were awarded for development of demonstration and training programs. Grants focused primarily on programming for managerial rather than line staff. The grants awarded for demonstration and training programs will impact 571 supervisors and 420 officers and their families.

The Violence Against Women Office supports the Battered Women's Justice Project (BWJP) to train law enforcement officers on promising practices, such as: interviewing children at the scene of a domestic assault; making self-defense and primary aggressor determinations; investigating officer-involved domestic violence cases; testifying in court; coordinating with victim services programs; managing specialized domestic violence units; and enforcing protection orders. BWJP also is updating and disseminating a best-selling video-based curriculum on law enforcement response to domestic violence.

In addition, VAWO supports specialized domestic violence training for rural law enforcement officers. Praxis, International trains rural grantees about intervention practices that enhance the safety of battered women and their children. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) is implementing a domestic violence rural law enforcement train-the-trainer program to enable participants to conduct training in their own jurisdictions. The National Sheriffs' Association provides training to front line officers and administrators, focusing on rural law enforcement in sheriffs' offices.

COLLECTING DATA FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT

OJP data is continuing to support efforts to ensure that felons and other ineligible persons cannot legally obtain firearms. Approximately 536,000 of the more than 22.2 million individual applications to purchase or pawn firearms have been rejected based on federal, state, or local laws since the inception of the Brady Act in February 1994. BJS released two reports in June 2000, Background Checks of Firearm Transfers, 1999 and Federal Firearm Offenders, 1992-98-With Preliminary Data for 1999. According to these reports, more than 200,000 firearms applications were rejected in 1999 and the number of defendants charged with federal firearms offenses increased from 1998 to 1999.

Other findings include:

Firearm Background Checks

Firearm Offense Prosecutions

In July 2000, criminal and juvenile justice researchers, practitioners, and policy makers met to discuss the latest studies and program evaluations related to crime, drug control, and violence. This Annual Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation, sponsored by the agencies and bureaus of OJP, provided a national forum for the discussion of cutting edge research and promising programs that are making a difference in shaping criminal and juvenile

justice policy. Specifically, firearms intervention programs, police accountability, youth gangs, crime in Indian country, violence against women, community policing, reentry of offenders back into the community, racial profiling, drug courts, youth violence, and drugs and crime were among the topics discussed.

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