The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice will be chaired by Phil Keith, the former police chief of Knoxville, Tenn., and the current director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Besides Keith, all of the appointed commissioners work in law enforcement — on local or state police forces, in sheriff’s offices, in federal agencies or as prosecutors — which has raised some concerns among those who hoped for input from members of the civil rights, criminal defense and social services spheres.
Commission officials said 15 working groups, each assigned to a different topic in the criminal justice field, would have a diverse membership and hear a range of testimony.
“This Commission is critical,” Barr said, because of the challenges posed by technology as well as “a wave of social problems, such as homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness” that demand solutions beyond the expertise of police.
“Further,” Barr added, “there has been, especially as of late, a disturbing pattern of cynicism and disrespect shown toward law enforcement. All Americans should agree that nobody wins when trust breaks down between the police and the community they serve. We need to address the divide.”
The attorney general also noted declines in police hiring and morale and said it was “particularly alarming that, last year, more officers died by suicide than any year previously recorded. In fact, more officers died by suicide than in the line of duty last year.”
The commission, established from an executive order President Trump signed last year, is required to submit a report and recommendations to the attorney general by Oct. 28. The attorney general is then directed to submit a report and recommendations to the president within 60 days.
A National Crime and Justice Task Force was the first recommendation suggested by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2015 to propose ideas for comprehensive criminal justice reform. Bills to create such a commission were launched in Congress in 2017 and 2019 but did not gain momentum. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Fraternal Order of Police proposed that Trump create one by executive order.
Barr thanked both groups at the beginning of his remarks Wednesday.
Terry Cunningham, the deputy executive director of the IACP and a former police chief, said that the 21st Century Task Force only focused on policing, while the new commission “will examine all aspects of the criminal justice system and how they interact.” He said the 15 working groups will hold hearings, panel presentations and field visits.
“This is about setting a course for policing and the administration of justice for the next 25 to 30 years,” Cunningham said.
The working groups will examine topics such as homeland security, juvenile delinquency and youth crime, police officer health, social problems impacting public safety and reduction of crime. The full list and description of groups is here.
“I don’t think our justice system is broken,” said Jonathan F. Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, “but there are certainly elements of it that need resuscitation and review. This demonstrates the [Trump] administration is really trying to get its arms around these issues at a local level.”
A number of observers expressed surprised that the commission is made up entirely of law enforcement members.
Cedric Alexander, the former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and a member of the 21st Century Task Force, said he hoped “going forward that they would consider incorporating those from the civil rights and human rights community into their platform because they would be able to add valuable insight into their mission.”
Alexander noted that Trump’s commission does not include any chiefs from the nation’s largest cities, which he said often face unique policing challenges.
“It’s in the major cities where communities are most challenged with issues of crime and relationship-building [with police], and with social issues,” he said. “Adding a few major city chiefs would expand and enhance the effectiveness of this new commission.”
The biggest city represented by a police chief on the commission is Wichita, the 51st-largest city in the United States. Police officers from Nashville and Dallas, both involved in the labor movement sought by the FOP, are on the commission. Of the 10 most populous states, only Florida, Texas and North Carolina are represented.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said: “It’s unclear whether this group has commissioners who bring to bear expertise on critical civil rights issues such as racial disparities when it comes to use of excessive or deadly force, stops and searches, and racial profiling. This commission also arises shortly following polarizing statements from Attorney General Barr suggesting that law enforcement need not protect communities that criticize the police.”
Clarke said the commission’s “agenda is clearly law-enforcement driven and glaringly silent on issues that are front and center for communities of color. This kind of one-sided agenda is not likely to produce action items that will address systemic racial disparities impacting policing today.”
Clarke noted that Obama’s 11-person task force had a more diverse group of members, with only three from law enforcement. Six of the 11 were people of color. On Trump’s commission, three of its 16 members are people of color.
“Traditionally,” said Laurie Robinson, the co-chair of Obama’s task force, “commissions of this kind, appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations, have been more broadly representative.” She said she hoped to see “a broader cross-section of criminal justice representation, that could provide richer insight and perspectives.”
Here are the members of the commission:
Chairman: Phil Keith, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Vice Chairman: Katharine Sullivan, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Office of Justice Programs.
Commissioners: David Bowdich, deputy director, Federal Bureau of Investigation; James Clemmons, sheriff of Richmond County, N.C.; D. Christopher Evans, chief of operations, DEA; Frederick Frazier, city councilman in McKinney, Tex., and Dallas police officer; Robert Gualtieri, sheriff of Pinellas County, Fla.; Gina Hawkins, police chief in Fayetteville, N.C.; Regina Lombardo, acting deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Erica MacDonald, U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota; Ashley Moody, Florida attorney general; Nancy Parr, commonwealth’s attorney in Chesapeake, Va.; Craig Price, cabinet secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety; Gordon Ramsay, chief of police in Wichita; David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; John Samaniego, sheriff of Shelby County, Ala.; James Smallwood, Nashville police officer; Donald Washington, director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Wesley Lowery contributed to this report.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that 16 people were appointed commissioners, not 15.