On February 28, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of the U.S. Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, pursuant to the President’s Executive Order. Chaired by the Deputy Attorney General (now Rachel Brand), Task Force members were said to be drawn from relevant Department components, and will include the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Director of the FBI and the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).
The task force is charged with developing strategies to reduce crime; identifying deficiencies in existing laws and policies that have made them less effective in reducing crime and proposing new legislation and policies to improve public safety and reduce crime; evaluating the availability and adequacy of crime-related data and identifying measures to improve it; and conducting any other relevant studies. In conducting its work, the task force will consult with federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement, law enforcement organizations and victims’ and community advocacy organizations, among others, to learn about successful local efforts and how they can best be supported at the federal level.
A publicly-available April 5 Memorandum to Head of Department Components and United States Attorneys from Sessions directed the Task Force to “submit initial recommendations from the Task Force no later than July 27th”… The Memo indicates that the “Task Force will accomplish its work through a variety of subcommittees, and those groups are already hard at work, benefiting from the expertise of many offices throughout the Department.” The subcommittees were described as identifying, reviewing, making recommendations on:
… overall violent crime reduction strategy, which will include focused enforcement against violent offenders. This subcommittee will also examine ways in which we can support local partners engaged in enforcement, prevention, and reentry efforts; leverage existing law enforcement efforts; and measure the effectiveness of our work;
… existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities;
… use of asset forfeiture and make recommendations on any improvements needed to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations;
… the Hate Crimes Subcommittee will develop a plan to appropriately address hate crimes to better protect the rights of all Americans;
… immigration enforcement and human trafficking to ensure that the federal government has an aggressive and coordinated strategy to deter those who violate our borders and subject others to forced labor, involuntary servitude, sex trafficking, and other forms of modern-day slavery.
In the Memorandum, Sessions directed the Task Force to “hold a National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety within 120 days [August 3], so that we can learn from federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies, victims’ advocacy organizations, and community advocacy organizations about how we can best support and replicate successful local violent crime reduction efforts.” It further indicated that “In addition, as part of the important work the Task Force is undertaking to combat hate crimes, the Department’s Civil Rights Division will be reaching out to affected communities to hear directly what strategies and support are most needed to help reduce this particularly pernicious crime.”
A July 26 story in The Hill indicates that, while the Justice Department did not provide details on what recommendations the task force has provided, Sessions signaled that he has been receiving and implementing recommendations from the task force: Sessions said in a statement that he has been getting recommendations on a “rolling basis…” and that he has “been acting on the Task Force’s recommendations to set the policy of the Department. I will continue to review all of the Task Force’s recommendations…”
Five-plus months later, despite repeated requests from journalists and others federal officials have refused to officially disclose the identities of those on the panel, its meeting agendas, or what recommendations it is handing to the attorney general.
On August 1, Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter to AG Sessions asking that the recommendations of the Task Force “immediately be made public” and posing specific questions to the AG.