Officials Blast Barr For Criticism Of Progressive Prosecutors

By Aaron Leibowitz | August 16, 2019, 4:06 PM EDT

Sixty-seven current and former prosecutors, law enforcement officials and judges issued a statement Friday blasting U.S. Attorney General William Barr for a recent speech in which he called progressive prosecutors "dangerous to public safety."

The officials, responding to Barr's biting comments Monday at a conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in New Orleans, said they rejected his depiction of the criminal justice system as a fight against "criminal predators" and his suggestion that newly elected district attorneys around the country are enacting an approach that will result in "more crime."

"Attorney General Barr labeled reform-minded prosecutors looking toward innovation and research to advance new thinking as 'anti-law enforcement,'" the statement said. "Using rhetoric that harkens back to the parochial 'tough on crime' narrative of past decades that stoked fear and impeded progress, AG Barr criticized the initiatives of criminal justice leaders across the nation who advocate for diverting more individuals from the justice system, using discretion to redirect precious law enforcement resources better spent on public health and prevention than punishment, and improving fairness and accountability."

The statement, which was released by the nonprofit Fair and Just Prosecution, was signed by district attorneys who were elected on platforms of sweeping reform, including Rachael Rollins, whose jurisdiction includes the city of Boston, and Larry Krasner of Philadelphia.

Although Barr did not mention any prosecutors by name in his speech, he criticized what he called "anti-law enforcement DAs" who he said "have tended to emerge in jurisdictions where the election is largely determined by the primary."

"Some are refusing to prosecute various theft cases or drug cases, even where the suspect is involved in distribution," Barr said. "And when they do deign to charge a criminal suspect, they are frequently seeking sentences that are pathetically lenient."

"These cities are headed back to the days of revolving door justice," Barr said. "The results will be predictable. More crime, more victims."

Rollins, who took office in January, campaigned on a pledge not to prosecute a list of low-level crimes including trespassing, shoplifting, and certain resisting arrest and drug possession charges. Krasner has instructed prosecutors in his office not to seek cash bail in misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases, and to stop bringing charges against sex workers with fewer than three past convictions, among other reforms.

The 67 officials' statement Friday cited a study prepared for Congress last year that found violent crime nationally had reached nearly historic lows. The drop in crime was "not due to a rise in incarceration," the officials said in their statement. Rather, they argued, data indicates that "too many cases come into the justice system unnecessarily, and too often incarceration exacerbates the likelihood of future criminal activity."

On Twitter, Rollins, a former federal prosecutor, said she hoped Barr and other national leaders "will understand what facts, data and lessons learned from the past have taught us as we work to wisely use limited criminal justice resources to promote safer and stronger communities."

Other signatories of the statement included the current top prosecutors for Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Cook County, Illinois; Dallas County, Texas; Durham County, North Carolina; Kings County, New York; and New York County, New York.

Several county sheriffs, current and former police chiefs, former state attorneys general and former state judges and one former federal judge also signed the statement.

A representative for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

--Editing by Jack Karp.

Update: This story has been updated to note that DOJ declined to comment.