Serpas out as police chief; to take tenured post at Loyola _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans Chief of Police Ronal Serpas announced his retirement at a press conference Monday, August 18, 2014. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is left.

A group co-founded by former New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas is urging President Donald Trump’s administration to shift course on law enforcement policy.

The group — made up of 200 current and former police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors and dubbed the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration — put out a report this week suggesting the president's stated approach to cutting crime relies too much on locking people up and won't actually improve safety.

In a foreword to the report, Serpas, who serves as the group's co-chair, wrote, “Decades of experience have convinced us of a sobering reality: Today’s crime policies, which too often rely only on jail and prison, are simply ineffective in preserving public safety.”

Trump made law and order a pillar of his campaign last year, often falsely claiming crime rates are at an all-time high when in fact they are at one of the lowest levels in seven decades.

The exact contours of his administration’s policies toward criminal justice issues are still taking shape, though executive orders last week called for a task force on crime reduction, a crackdown on drug cartels and stepped-up prosecution of those who commit crimes against law enforcement officers.

The report says a tighter focus is needed.

In an interview, Serpas, now a professor of criminology at Loyola University, said the organization felt it was important to “put down a place marker” at the beginning of a new administration to make clear the views of officials “who have had a front-row seat” on criminal justice policy.

The report urges the president to focus his crime-fighting efforts on violent offenses; to support eliminating mandatory minimum jail sentences in drug cases; and to fund assistance for those dealing with mental health problems and addiction, as well as those returning to society after incarceration. 

“Many of us were young and new police chiefs during the ‘dragnet era’ of making a lot of low-level arrests, and we have now come to see with greater science, greater experience that those types of enforcement have the potential to put officers in harm's way and reduce community trust,” Serpas said.

The report also takes a dig at Trump's new attorney general, noting that recent efforts in Congress to reform federal sentencing guidelines foundered thanks to opposition from “a handful of Republican senators,” including Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator who was just sworn in to lead the Justice Department. 

The report cites estimates that sentencing reform would save $722 million over 10 years and suggests that Sessions may want to change tack when he realizes that a quarter of the Justice Department’s budget goes toward funding federal prisons.

“The more dollars these prisons require, the less available to allocate to federal law enforcement in our fight to secure public safety,” the report says. “This makes it harder for law enforcement to do our jobs.”

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​