On the surface, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there are law enforcement groups that are trying to subvert bipartisan support for the Smarter Sentencing Act. Sure, the hardcore and lazy federal prosecutors have come out against it, as it could make them have to work for the notches on their guns, but that was to be expected.
Yet, as the HuffPo explains, there is a second level of organized law enforcement working in the shadows to try to blunt the edge of reform of the mandatory minimums that allow prosecutors to own the system:
Several organizations representing state and local law enforcement are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America’s drug war three decades ago.
These groups include the National Sheriffs’ Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, the National Association of Police Organizations and the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, The Huffington Post has learned.
What makes this curious is that none of these organizations has a facial horse in this race. Each organization represents state and local interests. The Smarter Sentencing Act, on the other hand, relates solely to federal law. None of these organizations should care one way or another about federal mandatory minimums. And yet…
They hope to weaken congressional support for the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reform the nation’s mandatory minimum statutes, authorizing federal judges to sentence drug defendants to less time behind bars than what current law requires.
To the extent that any explanation is offered, it comes from the spokesman for the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, which, despite its name, is nothing more than an umbrella group of state umbrella groups of narcs.
But Bob Bushman, president of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, one of the groups fighting the bill, contends that state and local governments could end up bearing some of those same costs. To compensate for the federal government’s softer approach, he argues, states and counties would be compelled to lock up more people than they do now.
Major drug dealers “need to be locked up somewhere,” Bushman told HuffPost. “Some of these folks have worked hard to get to prison.”
As explanations go, Bushman’s is particularly pathetic. While it’s possible that he’s somebody’s ne’er-do-well nephew who was in need of a job and nobody expected him to ever speak with a writer, he may also be the actual spokesperson for the claimed 65,000 narcotics officers represented by the various levels of associations that ultimately comprise this coalition. And this is the best argument he could muster?
The problem isn’t that anyone in office will be persuaded by such an insipid claim, but that they all want to put on their campaign flyer that they’re endorsed by law enforcement groups. And if nothing else, law enforcement has been exceptionally smart about creating myriad groups with cool sounding names that create the appearance of breadth and substance worthy of a politician’s attention. Heck, a three-man police department can be associated with 17 different law enforcement associations and nobody would have a clue. And all without a significant contribution from the Koch Brothers or Soros.
Even if the argument wasn’t facially ridiculous, it remains in the self-interest of state and local law enforcement to return to the days before the feds stuck their nose into pedestrian crime and started taking on routine drug prosecutions. After all, it means more work for the local cops, more cop jobs, more cop medals, more overtime, more prison guards, etc. What’s not to like?
It would appear that the fear is money, but that the trend against over-criminalization and over-incarceration may finally no longer cut in their favor.
A letter from Bushman and his group to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — just one of several letters written by the Smarter Sentencing Act opponents that Bushman said are floating around Capitol Hill — argues that federal policy should not be driven by “second-order effects of America’s drug problem” like incarceration costs.
If the feds can reduce the massive cost of incarceration nation by reversing decades of over-everything, then the same can be done on the state and local levels. What if people find out that everything they’ve been told since Nixon was in office was a lie, and that some hopped-up black dude will not climb through their bedroom window tonight to steal their jewelry and rape their wimmenfolk?
What if they find out they don’t need to keep building prisons to warehouse drug mules who carried the suitcase to feed starving children, and calling them Kingpins because of the weight of the suitcase is really, truly idiotic.
What if they decide that the price of gasoline to fuel their armored personnel carriers that makes cops look far cooler than their beer bellies would suggest isn’t worth the tax increase?
Kill reform now, while people are still dumb enough to believe the rhetoric. Once people realize that this was all hype from the outset, it could take decades before turning it around with another Willie Horton commercial.
But then, Democrats?
Bushman said it was “a little early” to talk about whether law enforcement groups could be won over with a compromise bill this time, but said members of Congress first need to look at the “broader implications” of rolling back mandatory minimums.
Democratic congressional aides acknowledged that they have been speaking with a number of law enforcement groups about the bill and said they hoped some of the concerns raised would be addressed, but likewise noted it was still relatively early in the legislative process.
By broader implications, he probably means whether the Democrats will get to use some cop logo on their next campaign flyer below the words, “endorsed by…” They won’t be Willie Horton’d again.
H/T Mike Riggs