Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday that there is “no data” to support the idea that the police are not aggressively protecting communities since the increased use of videos and the focus on police tactics after the death of Michael Brown, something referred to as “the Ferguson effect.”
In testimony during her first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since her confirmation, Lynch agreed with President Obama and her predecessor Eric H. Holder Jr. and pushed back against comments made by FBI Director James B. Comey and Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, both of whom report to her.
“While certainly there might be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it, and what I have seen in my travels across this country is the dedication, the commitment and the resolve of our brave men and women in law enforcement to improving policing, to embracing the 21st Century Task Force recommendations, and to continuing to have a dialogue that makes our country safer for all,” Lynch said.
In two recent speeches, at the University of Chicago Law School on Oct. 23 and at a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police three days later, Comey said that “viral videos” of police activity had sent a “chill wind” through law enforcement and he suggested a link between this year’s spike in crime in some major U.S. cities and the growing protests alleging excessive use of force by police.
Rosenberg said he agreed with Comey and that he had “heard the same thing” from law enforcement officials.
In the more than four-hour hearing, Lynch was questioned on a range of issues including gun control, marijuana and the investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Lynch called for congressional action on criminal justice reform, saying that the Justice Department was “eager to see meaningful sentencing reform enacted.”
Lynch also was asked about the idea of transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. prisons, and she said it was not possible.
“The current state of the law allows for the transfer of certain detainees from Guantanamo Bay, those that after a vigorous review process, are placed in that transfer category to countries, that after significant vetting and promises of management, can accept them,” Lynch said. “With respect to individuals being transferred to the United States, the law currently does not allow for that. And that is not, as I am aware of, going to be contemplated, given the legal prescriptions.”
Lynch’s comments on the “Ferguson effect” came after Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) alluded to Comey and Rosenberg by saying that “some from within your department” have suggested that dialogue on police and community relations “have somehow reduced the willingness of some police officers to perform their duties.”
“Does our conversations about civil rights and the appropriate use of force by police somehow make us less safe?” Conyers asked Lynch.
“Our discussion about civil rights, and the appropriate use of force and all police tactics can only serve to make all of us, community members and police officers, safer,” Lynch replied. “In my discussions with police officers around the country, I have found a positive engagement on these issues.”
The exchanges became testy when Republican members of the committee asked Lynch about the Justice Department’s decision to bring no criminal charges in the two-year investigation into whether any Internal Revenue Service officials, including former director Lois Lerner, had committed crimes in connection with the handling of tax-exemption applications filed by conservative groups.
Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) told Lynch it was the duty of a U.S. attorney to bring the case of Lerner before a grand jury after she was held in contempt by the House and the case was referred to the Justice Department. Lynch replied that the matter was reviewed by the U.S. attorney at the time and that a prosecutorial decision was made.