Issues / Promoting Community Trust and Police Accountability

Justice is served when prosecutors are fully engaged with their constituents, and when community members have faith in them. A prosecuting attorney’s approach to police accountability and her willingness to pursue justice for all citizens has a major impact on community trust and partnerships.

Full confidence in the prosecutor’s office is essential to building and maintaining an office’s legitimacy and credibility. With every community contact, prosecutors have an opportunity to build public confidence in the justice system.

Information and Resources

Blueprint for Police Accountability and Reform

To create a system of justice that lives up to its name, we can no longer tinker around the edges. We require structural change that fundamentally reimagines the role of police and prosecutors and shift resources away from punitive criminal justice responses that have fueled mass incarceration, and instead invest in communities and services that promote both public safety and wellbeing and enable everyone to thrive. With this in mind, Fair and Just Prosecution’s Blueprint for Police Accountability and Reform outlines concrete policy recommendations that elected officials, chief prosecutors, law enforcement heads, and other leaders must embrace to address police misconduct and racial injustice.

“Combatting the racism interwoven throughout our nation’s justice system demands the immediate adoption of concrete and systemic reforms that will reset our priorities and our justice system.”

Promoting Independent Police Accountability Mechanisms – Key Principles for Civilian Oversight

Police accountability requires systemic change and should start with empowering communities and putting responsibility for oversight in the hands of the people. FJP’s new “Statement of Principles” provides insight for elected prosecutors and other justice system stakeholders on how to achieve effective civilian oversight of law enforcement, which can help strengthen fractured relationships with law enforcement and begin to fortify bonds of trust that are integral to promoting public safety.

“A police officer’s word, and the complete veracity of that word, is fundamentally necessary to doing the job. Therefore, any break in trust must be approached with deep concern.”
– City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner

FJP Police Accountability Brief

Prosecuting attorneys’ relationship to local law enforcement, including their responses to allegations of officer misconduct, is an area of profound community concern and increasing public scrutiny. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief addresses how prosecuting attorneys can best ensure constitutional and legal policing in their jurisdictions and seek criminal accountability, where appropriate, for police officers who have violated the law.

FJP Procedural Justice Brief

Research shows that court participants are more likely to comply with court orders and follow the law in the future when they perceive the court process to be fair. This FJP “Issues at a Glance” brief suggests strategies for strengthening community trust by improving the fairness of procedures that defendants and community members experience during a criminal investigation or prosecution. From simple measures such as using plain language whenever possible, to efforts aimed at reducing implicit bias, prosecutors can increase the legitimacy of their work in the eyes of the communities they serve.

Speaking Out

Nearly 70 Criminal Justice Leaders Call for an End to the Unnecessary Use of Deadly Force by PA Police

Our criminal legal system should not provide cover to police officers who abuse their authority and take the lives of others unnecessarily. A bipartisan group of nearly 70 criminal justice leaders filed an amicus brief urging the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to make clear that the police should not be allowed to use deadly force on people fleeing arrest who are not dangerous. The brief was filed in support of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s appeal prior to the trial of former Philadelphia police officer Ryan Pownall, who is charged with homicide for the killing of David Jones. For more, read the brief and release.

“At a time when our country is engaging in deep discussions of how to promote community safety, it is particularly critical for this Court to clarify that no one is above the law. Any other ruling sends a troubling message that would undermine our ability…to seek justice, preserve public confidence in the criminal legal system, and thereby promote public safety.”

Chauvin sentencing not enough. Police oversight must be put in the hands of the people.

Police accountability requires systemic change that goes far beyond the outcome of any individual conviction or sentence, and it should start with putting power in the hands of the people. In this USA Today op-ed, former Albany, NY Police Chief Brendan Cox and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss why empowered civilian oversight of law enforcement is a critical step towards real police accountability and rebuilding community trust.

“Empowered civilian oversight of law enforcement empowers the community to be an engaged participant in reviewing law enforcement conduct and propelling reform. It is long overdue in many communities, and in need of fortifying in those places where it does exist.”

The Chauvin verdict is an important step forward but here’s why we must go further

In the wake of the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky authored this MarketWatch op-ed acknowledging the efforts that led to Chauvin’s conviction, but also noting long overdue broader systemic changes needed to prevent police violence in the first place – including developing alternative ways of helping individuals experiencing mental health or substance-use-related crises, implementing community-based oversight organizations, and empowering prosecutors to investigate and prosecute instances of police misconduct.

“George Floyd’s killing was not an isolated incident and Chauvin was not an aberrant ‘bad apple.’ Excessive force, violence and racial bias are deeply ingrained in America’s policing system.”

FJP Statement on Verdict in the Derek Chauvin Trial

Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky issued this statement in response to a jury finding Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.

“We are thankful that Derek Chauvin will be held accountable for taking George Floyd’s life. Yet it cannot be said that justice was served today because true justice would be George Floyd – and all other victims of police violence – being alive today. We have a moral imperative to continue fighting for change so that we see the end of state-sanctioned violence against of our communities.”

Police departments – not taxpayers – should pay the bill for misconduct settlements

In the wake of a historic $27 million settlement between the city of Minneapolis and the family of George Floyd, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky authored this MarketWatch op-ed explaining why police departments, not cash-strapped local governments, should shoulder the financial burden of law enforcement misconduct and how, more broadly, we can reform the system so these tragedies never occur in the first place.

“If we are serious about reducing police violence and promoting police accountability, we need to place responsibility for systemic failures at the foot of those who can correct them by holding police departments financially liable for problems that lead to wrongdoing.”

Building Community Trust to Promote Public Safety

Our policing and criminal legal systems have failed to promote the safety and well-being of all people in our community. Decades of spending more on policing, courts, and prison than on social safety nets has left communities trapped in cycles of trauma and violence. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this deeply flawed starting point: they are simultaneously over policed, over incarcerated, under protected, and under resourced. A new generation of policing and prosecution leaders understand that the path to true safety begins with earning the trust of communities. In this FJP video, law enforcement leaders explain how making policing fairer, investing in communities, and working toward racial equity will build a stronger, safer, and healthier America.

“For too long, we have divested of the resources that allow communities to be safe, and we’ve invested in only one solution, which is punishment.”
– Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, Co-founder and CEO, Center For Policing Equity

Failures of grand jury process evident in Breonna Taylor case

The Breonna Taylor case provides a stark illustration of the failings of the grand jury process in officer-involved shooting investigations. While grand juries return indictments in the vast majority of cases presented to them, in cases of alleged police misconduct indictments are rare. In this USA Today op-ed, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky shares ideas on grand jury reforms, as well as steps prosecutors can take to make grand juries more transparent and just.

“With police shootings, the community deserves insight into the process, from decisions regarding which charges to present, to the evidence presented, and the ultimate reasoning of the grand jury. Transparency is essential for communities to understand and accept how decisions are made, hold prosecutors accountable for their choices and instill confidence in the process.”

Fair and Just Prosecution Statement on Ruling Finding Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement in Violation of Federal Law

FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky issued this statement in response to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s finding in NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund v. William Barr that the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice is in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Senior District Court Judge John D. Bates ordered the Attorney General to not publish or rely upon any report or recommendations produced by the Commission until the requirements of FACA have been satisfied.

“Sadly, at a time when trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low, this Commission represents nothing more than a sham proceeding designed to further a political agenda. Now, more than ever, we need inclusive and transparent discussions about the future of policing, equity, and criminal justice in America.”

Fair and Just Prosecution Statement on Charging Decisions in the Breonna Taylor Case

FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky issued this statement in response to the announcement of charging decisions in the tragic Breonna Taylor case. The outcome reflects the deep and ongoing flaws of our criminal legal system and the need for a reimagining of policing.

“Our communities need a fundamental transformation of policing, including addressing over-policing – especially in communities of color – and investment in community-led solutions. 21st Century Prosecutors must drive this shifting of priorities and be transparent in holding police accountable, while also advocating for systemic change.”

Communities Need and Deserve a Reset of Policing and the Justice System. Trump has Created a Sham Process that Excludes Them.

The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement has been shrouded in secrecy, but it’s clear that its goal is to advance dangerous and inaccurate narratives about public safety and failed policing practices. In this op-ed in The Appeal, Joe Brann, the founding director of the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the need for a new community-driven vision of policing to advance safety and equity. Read more here.

“After decades of policing that too often ignores or glorifies violence, we are facing a moral imperative to reshape law enforcement in this country.”

Local prosecutors are the best people to defend their communities against corrupt cops

Some recent proposals are suggesting that the power to prosecute police misconduct should be removed from the hands of local prosecutors and placed in the hands of “outside prosecutors” such as state prosecutors or attorneys general. In this op-ed in The Baltimore Sun, Roy L. Austin, Jr. and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky explain why these efforts will erode police accountability. Instead, they highlight key principles that enable local prosecutors – who know best the local landscape and how to effectively pursue these prosecutions – to oversee these vitally important and sensitive cases.

“A mandate transferring responsibility for police misconduct cases to ‘outside prosecutors’…creates additional problems by inserting prosecutors who don’t know the local landscape and aren’t versed on pursuing cases in that jurisdiction.”

Our president is threatening the right to vote, as well as public safety

The current administration’s efforts to undermine the voting process – including interference with the Postal Service, unsubstantiated claims about the lack of integrity of voting by mail, and the threat of sending law enforcement officials to police the polls – could do irreparable harm to our democracy and further erode the trust of communities in government and the rule of law. In this new op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa County, CA District Attorney Diana Becton, Mecklenburg County, NC Sheriff Garry L. McFadden, and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky share how these attacks on the right to vote threaten public safety across the country.

“[W]hen one of our systems is attacked and fails – especially one as integral to our democracy as free and fair elections – public trust is compromised, along with the ability for all our government systems to function, including our criminal legal system.”

79 Criminal Justice Leaders Call for Protection of Voter Rights as Suppression and Intimidation Tactics Threaten a Fair Election

The right to vote is fundamental to American democracy and inextricably tied to public trust and safety. Current efforts to undermine the voting process – including interference with the Postal Service and the threat of deploying law enforcement officials to police the polls – damage the fragile bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In this joint statement, 79 elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders condemn these tactics and call on all leaders around the nation to help combat these disheartening and destructive efforts. Read the release and statement.

“Public trust in democracy, the rule of law, and the integrity of our government is integral to public safety. When one system is attacked and fails, it compromises the ability of all systems to function, including our criminal justice system. And when communities do not trust us, we cannot effectively keep them safe.”

Bad law and failed order

As the current administration and opponents of reform stoke fear about crime in America, the death rate from homicides in the U.S. is less than 10% of the deaths from the current pandemic, while the average yearly number of hate crimes has increased dramatically under this administration. Meanwhile, the administration has sought to curb the power of locally-elected, reform-minded prosecutors who understand that past “tough on crime” approaches don’t work. In this op-ed in The Hill, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Roy L. Austin, Jr. fact check these regressive talking points on crime.

“President Trump, Attorney General William Barr and their allies regularly attack reform-minded prosecutors and encourage federal intervention. But these local prosecutors were elected by their communities explicitly because of their commitment to reform the system.”

Want Prosecutorial Reform? Start With Curtailing the Influence of Police Unions.

Police accountability requires independent prosecutors able and willing to investigate police misconduct. In this op-ed in The Appeal, Loudoun County, VA Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj and FJP Executive Director Miriam Aroni Krinsky discuss the importance of ending real and perceived conflicts and financial ties between prosecutors and police unions as a critical first step towards restoring public trust in the justice system.

“Building community trust in the criminal legal system will require a transformation of policing and a transformation of prosecution: the return of power to the community, the radical downsizing of the criminal legal system, deep investment in public health solutions, transparency, and a truly equal application of the law. Removing police union influence from the prosecutor’s office is a critical first step towards building a system that is safe, just, and fair for all.” 

Over 75 Criminal Justice Leaders Demand Transparency and Balance from Presidential Commission Examining Policing and Criminal Justice

Against the backdrop of the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, 76 current and former elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders from around the nation filed an amicus brief highlighting the deeply frayed relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve and elevating the urgent need for transparent, inclusive and thoughtful reform of policing policies. In the brief, amici argue that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice reflects anything but this open and balanced starting point and has failed to comply with the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The brief concludes that this “flawed process … is the last thing a nation in crisis needs at this critical moment in time.” For more read the release and brief.

“Law enforcement must earn the public’s trust…But that is only possible when law enforcement officials pair their words with a meaningful commitment to learning from, and partnering with, the communities they serve.”

FJP Statement to the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement: Fairness, Equity, and Trust are Essential to Public Safety 

In this statement to the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky notes that public trust – rooted in fairness, accountability, and evidence – is at the core of public safety. The statement urges the Commission to build on the work of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and promote strategies that further the smart and strategic use of law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion. FJP also urged the Commission to embrace an accessible and inclusive process that complies with federal open meeting requirements. For more, read the full statement.

“Safety is furthered by – and never needs to be at the expense of – justice and fairness.”
– Fjp Executive Director Miriam Krinsky

AG Barr is wrong: Criminal justice reform is making us safer

As criminal justice leaders increasingly are rejecting past failed“tough on crime” policies, they are embracing new approaches backed by research and grounded in compassion and common sense. Yet, these leaders face opposition from some who would have us return to a bygone era of harsh punishments that has made the US an international outlier and the world leader of incarceration. In a Morning Consult op-ed, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, former San Diego Police Chief Bill Landsdowne and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky refute the unfounded attacks Attorney General William Barr has leveled against reform-minded prosecutors, and recount how a new generation of prosecutors are joining the fight to build safer, stronger and healthier communities.  

We are zealous defenders of public safety. And we understand that public safety means safety for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, their family’s income, or their country of origin.”

Seventy Criminal Justice Leaders Denounce Attorney General Barr’s Remarks to Fraternal Order of Police

A new generation of prosecutors and law enforcement leaders are working together to create a compassionate, equitable and effective justice system. That’s why 70 current and former prosecutors, law enforcement and judicial leaders from across the country have repudiated Attorney General William Barr’s attack on reform-minded prosecutors whose data-backed approaches to criminal justice have decreased incarceration and promoted public safety. In the statement, signatories correct patently false claims made by AG Barr and caution against a return to past failed “tough on crime” approaches. For more, read the press release and full statement.

Prosecutors Agree: Black Communities Need an Equal Voice in the Jury Box

Juries that represent the community are critical to ensuring due process and a fair trial. Yet, racial discrimination in jury selection persists – and racially disparate juries too often translate into racially disparate incarceration and death sentences. In a Raleigh News & Observer op-ed, Durham County, NC District Attorney Satana Deberry and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the importance of diverse and inclusive juries and why the North Carolina Supreme Court should act to align with Supreme Court authority and create protections that prevent discrimination in jury selection.

“Elected prosecutors must commit to ending race discrimination in jury selection….This is not just a matter of justice. It is a matter of public safety.”

We Are Prosecutors. We Will Use Our Discretion on New Antiabortion Laws.”

Trust in the criminal justice system is critical. Laws that infringe on fundamental rights erode that trust and endanger the pursuit of justice as well as public safety. When that happens, we need bold leaders to use their voices and power to protect the rights and safety of all members of our communities. In a Washington Post op-ed, District Attorney Satana Deberry (Durham County, NC) and Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales (Portsmouth, VA) join FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky in discussing how recent laws that criminalize abortion harm communities, and why prosecutors should use their discretion to refuse to prosecute these personal healthcare decisions. Over 40 DAs from across the country joined together in a statement rejecting the criminalization of abortion decisions. Read the full statement and learn more here.”

“There are many ways prosecutors can use the rule of law to make communities safer and healthier – but trampling upon decades-old legal precedent to put women and doctors in jail for seeking or performing a legal medical procedure is simply not one of them.”

“Let Prosecutors Protect the Integrity of the Justice System”

When police officers have a history of serious credibility issues, it is the responsibility of the prosecutor to know who they are and to take steps to ensure they are not relied upon as witnesses. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch op-ed, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky, Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, and Co-Chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration Ronal Serpas outline the importance of Brady lists—a nationally recognized best practice used by prosecutors to systematically track such officers and thereby ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system and promote community trust.

“Prosecutors have a duty to seek justice and advance the truth – and that includes not putting witnesses who lack credibility on the stand.”

“Guilty Verdict in Van Dyke Case Reinforces Need For Transparent Policing”

A USA Today op-ed by FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky highlights reforms aimed at increasing transparency in, and improving accountability of, police departments. As evidenced by the guilty verdict in the case of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, these reforms are a critical part of rebuilding public trust and confidence in police and the broader justice system. 

“Transparency serves everyone: The citizens who need  and deserve  to trust their local police, prosecutors who are seeking justice for their communities, and police officers who cannot do their jobs without having the faith of those they serve.”
– FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky

As DOJ Rolls Back Monitoring of Police Conduct, More Prosecutors Should Step Up Their Efforts

USA Today op-ed in which Christy Lopez, former Deputy Chief of U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky discuss the key role of prosecutors in curbing police misconduct and upholding community trust.

“Trust Between Law Enforcement and Communities is Key to Public Safety”

Georgetown Law Professor Joshua Geltzer and Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky write in The Hill about local law enforcement policies that seek to avoid entanglement in immigration enforcement issues and that recognize the importance of longstanding principles of community policing and trust-building practices as a fundamental predicate for advancing public safety.

“District Attorney’s Job More Than Prosecution”

Wyandotte County (Kansas City, KS) District Attorney Mark Dupree talks about how his job includes elements beyond prosecuting crimes, including community engagement and crime prevention. Read more here.

“100 Days in, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Focuses on Strengthening Police, Community Ties”

St. Louis (MO) Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner devoted most of her first weeks in office to efforts aimed at improving relationships between law enforcement and people of color. Read more here.

Examples of Innovation

“Denver DA Beth McCann Promotes Renewed Commitment to Equal Application of Justice”

Denver (CO) District Attorney Beth McCann, upon assuming office, provided all members of her office with copies of the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness” by Michelle Alexander. Read more here.

“State’s Attorney Foxx Announces Special Prosecution Legislation”

Cook County (Chicago, IL) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced a proposed amendment to the Special Prosecutor Act to allow the State Appellate Prosecutor to investigate and pursue fatal officer-involved shooting cases in instances where the State’s Attorney decides not to charge the officer. Read more here.