June 11, 2022

Review of the Uvalde response, political assassinations, Congressional hearings, news from Ukraine, and more


PERF members,

This week I want to touch on a few different topics in the news.

Review of Uvalde Shooting Response

On Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that a nine-person team will be reviewing the law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shootings. The COPS Office-led team has a number of experienced law enforcement executives, including former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel, former Coral Gables, FL Director of Public Safety Frank Fernandez, Orange County, FL Sheriff John Mina, and former Aurora, IL Police Chief Kristen Ziman.

I don’t want to make any definitive judgements about the police response before this team has an opportunity to conduct its review, but, like many of you, I have several concerns based on what’s been reported thus far.

In this column, I have frequently talked about the importance of Monday-morning quarterbacking – of taking the facts of a particular incident and doing a deep-dive to see what went well and where improvements are needed.

After the Justice Department review team on Uvalde completes its work, every police department in the country should conduct a table-top exercise based on the facts that come out. They should invite neighboring agencies to participate; after all, they will likely arrive should a situation like Uvalde happen again.  And they should go over, in depth, what they would be do under similar circumstances – who would be in charge and how decisions would be made and communicated. And they should identify and address any policy, training, or equipment issues that may arise.

Reviews like this are needed to determine the facts and decision-making process, then identify lessons for all of us. It has been over 20 years since the Columbine massacre, and I still believe there are ambiguities about how these life-or-death situations should be responded to and managed.

Political Assassinations

Last week, a retired Wisconsin judge was shot and killed by a man who reportedly had a “hit list” that included Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Then, this week, an armed California man was arrested near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house in Maryland. The man was reportedly upset about how he expected Kavanaugh to rule in upcoming cases regarding abortion and gun rights.

All this has me concerned that we could see an increase in political assassinations. And I’m not the only one. David Graham just published an excellent piece in The Atlanticabout the killing in Wisconsin in which he shares my concerns. “Assassination remains rare in the United States, but in the past it has spiked at times of acute national tension, including following the Civil War, around the turn of the 20th century, and in the ‘60s,” Graham writes. “In a country as divided and angry as the United States is today, it’s surprising that more assassinations haven’t occurred. Perhaps this one is a sign of what’s to come.”

I urge all police executives to keep lines of communication open with high-profile local leaders and make sure all threats are taken seriously.

Congressional Hearings

There were a couple hearings on Capitol Hill this weekend that I’d recommend you watch. One was Thursday’s hearing on the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. The hearing included gripping testimony from U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was one of the first officers assaulted that day, as well as compelling video of many of the officers at the scene, including Officer Brian Sicknick, who subsequently died. The video is available here.

The other was Wednesday’s House committee hearing about gun violence. The hearing included testimony from an 11-year-old survivor of the mass shooting in Uvalde, family members of those shot in the Uvalde and Buffalo mass shootings, and Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. The full hearing is available here, and video from key moments is available here.

Election Results

Several states held primary elections this week. The most prominent criminal justice-related election was the recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin, who was elected in 2019, was part of a group of progressive prosecutors elected over the last five years. At our Town Hall Meeting last week, chiefs from several cities, including San Francisco, expressed concerns about prosecutorial decisions in their cities. It remains to be seen whether this pushback against progressive prosecution policies is particular to San Francisco or a sign of something more widespread.

In Los Angeles, Sheriff Alex Villanueva will face a runoff against Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in his reelection bid.

Director Nancy La Vigne’s Vision for NIJ

The National Institute of Justice has a new director, Dr. Nancy La Vigne, who was appointed to lead the agency last month. Director La Vigne comes to NIJ as a longtime academic with real-world experience. She just published her vision for NIJ under her leadership. “As a science agency, NIJ’s primary purpose is to generate research,” Director La Vigne writes. “But we also strive to communicate research findings in a manner that informs practitioners. We need to understand, for example, whether technology works not just in the lab, but also in the field.”

I’m encouraged by this emphasis on getting information in the hands of you all, the practitioners, because we need evidence-based policies and programs now more than ever. I know Director La Vigne will bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm to the agency, and the research team at PERF and I look forward to working with her and the entire team at NIJ.

FBI Use-of-Force Data

Last week the FBI published a data summary from the National Use-of-Force Data Collection for the first time. The FBI could not release data until they received information from agencies representing more than 60% of all federal, state, local, tribal, and college/university sworn officers, a milestone they just reached. The FBI’s press release is available here.

One of PERF’s researchers, Jeremy Barnum, is on the task force working to increase the participation rate, and I would encourage any agencies that are not currently submitting information to redouble their efforts to do so. The information we get out of this initiative will only be as good as the information that goes into it.

News from Ukraine

This week, Howard Buffett, who is the former sheriff in Macon County, Illinois and one of PERF’s strongest supporters, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Buffett presented President Zelensky with his sheriff badge, saying, “You are the top law man here in Ukraine, so I’m giving you my old sheriff badge from when I was sheriff.” President Zelensky wrote on Twitter that the two discussed restoring irrigation systems in Odessa, refugee support, demining, and school nutrition. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation is already spending tens of millions of dollars to help Ukrainian farmers harvest, export, store, and plant food crops to address food insecurity in Ukraine and the countries that depend on Ukrainian food exports.

President Zelensky and Howard Buffett

Have a great weekend!