Quantity and Quality: The 1994 Crime Bill and the Role of the Federal Government in Local Law Enforcement
Date:  11-17-2020

Report breaks down the 1994 Crime Bill, what was learned, and the "rigorous" need for evaluation of outcomes
From Council on Criminal Justice:

The unprecedented social unrest following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and other recent incidents of police violence has focused the nation’s attention on reforming law enforcement policy and practice. The issue now is not whether to improve law enforcement, but how to reach that goal – and, in the context of this series of reports assessing the 1994 Crime Bill, what role the federal government should play in reform.

In an abrupt reversal of his Administration’s opposition to federal oversight of local policing, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to establish a national database on excessive use of force by police, track officers who have resigned or been fired for misconduct, and support “programs aimed at developing or improving relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.” The President and U.S. Attorney General William Barr also authorized sending federal agents to cities to address violent crime and protest activity. House Democrats and Senate Republicans have put forth their own reform proposals, including legislation that aims to reduce tension and strengthen the relationship between police and communities – particularly communities of color – by reducing police misconduct and unjustified use of force.

In this respect, the current political climate resembles that surrounding passage of the 1994 Crime Bill. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was enacted in the aftermath of nationwide outrage and violent unrest in Los Angeles resulting from the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. The Crime Bill did not devote extensive attention to the issue of police misconduct and brutality, but it did seek to improve both the quantity and quality of policing in the United States. The central aim of the Crime Bill’s law enforcement sections was crime control, which made sense given public concern about escalating crime rates during the early 1990s, when the legislation was drafted. The Crime Bill sought to reduce crime in multiple ways, including through increasing community policing, the process by which officers engage community members in the coproduction of public safety. In that respect, too, the Crime Bill foreshadowed recent calls to make policing more responsive to community concerns and needs.

The Crime Bill sent a strong message that the federal government would not remain passive in the face of urgent local needs to reduce crime and upgrade law enforcement. One example was the Crime Bill’s authorization of Justice Department “pattern-or-practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies “to address institutional failures that cause systemic police misconduct,” a change spurred by the riots that followed the police beating of King and acquittal of the officers involved. Likewise, President Trump’s executive order and the Senate and House legislative initiatives clearly specify a leadership role for the federal government in local law enforcement reform. Crime control is not a principal objective of today’s reform advocates, except for controlling crimes by the police. Rising violent crime rates were a prominent issue of public debate five years ago, however, when controversial incidents in Ferguson, MO, New York, Chicago, and elsewhere sparked widespread protests against police brutality. Violent crime has again increased in the nation’s cities during the current period of unrest. While firm conclusions about its impact remain elusive, assessment of the quarter-century-old Crime Bill contains promising lessons for an effective, fair, and evidence-based law enforcement response. Continue reading >>>