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Some may think that criminal justice reform and public safety are mutually exclusive concepts.
Those skeptics say that the criminal justice reform efforts in Congress are little more than an attempt to coddle offenders. Others see self-styled social justice warriors screaming the latest catchy slogan while vilifying police and a 24-hour news cycle that can’t turn the cameras away.
But as with most leftist causes, the activists become more supportive of the catchy slogan than of actual change, and it quickly fades. Meanwhile, there is a sustained effort for actual reform that entices many law enforcement leaders for one simple reason: It puts public safety above all else.
Speaking last year at a summit on criminal justice reform, Hennepin County (Minn.) Sheriff Rich Stanek, a Republican, noted that the criminal justice system “has become the default system for dealing with, even warehousing low-level and repeat offenders, chronic problems, and unmet needs.”
Stanek isn’t a small-town sheriff. With more than 1.2 million residents, Hennepin County is one of the largest counties in the United States, and his department, the sheriff estimated, booked more than 40,000 people in jail in 2015.
The safety of his community is, of course, his paramount concern. Still, he understands that policing doesn’t address the root causes of crime. But the reliance on law enforcement to deal with these issues only makes law enforcement’s job more difficult.