Select Commission Calls for Major Changes in Federal Law Enforcement

By James D. Agresti
September 24, 1999

A five person commission funded by the Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 is poised to release a report that makes strong recommendations for improvement of the nation's law enforcement system. In the wake of Ruby Ridge and Waco, a groundswell of grassroots activism demanding greater accountability from federal law enforcement agencies prompted Congressional Republicans to establish this Commission.


Democrats made repeated attempts to block the funding, fearing that politically damaging information related to Waco would be uncovered, but the election of a Republican majority to Congress allowed for enough votes to move the process forward. Both Republicans and Democrats, as well as the Supreme Court Chief Justice appointed members to the Commission. In the end, all Commission members unanimously supported the findings. A draft copy of the report's recommendations obtained by Just Facts does not mention Waco, but instead, proposes measures to strengthen the accountability and effectiveness of federal law enforcement.


The Commission Recommends:

The President and Congress gather federal law enforcement authority and responsibility under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General. This includes the "immediate" transfer to the FBI of all law enforcement functions currently performed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.


The BATF is part the Treasury Department, and the FBI is a division of the Department of Justice. The BATF currently has responsibility for the enforcement of firearms and explosives laws, but is also tasked to collect taxes and regulate firearms, alcohol, and the tobacco industries. According to the Commission's findings, these taxing and regulatory duties, "do not, and cannot, contribute to effective enforcement of the nations' firearms and explosives laws," and these functions, "can best be carried out in the FBI."


The report notes that this assessment, "has been supported by virtually every formal review of BATF functions since gun control provisions became a significant feature of the agency's mandate in 1968."


The immediate transfer of the Drug Enforcement Administration's budget, authority and people to the FBI. In among the reasons for this suggestion, the Commission writes:


"It strains credulity to find, as we did with our survey, that both agencies consider themselves to have essentially the same drug enforcement mission."


The President and Congress create a system to ensure that all citizen complaints regarding federal law enforcement agencies are recorded, investigated, and resolved. In addition, the records and results of this process would be made public in an annual report. This is to be done by the Attorney General with Congress providing 'vigorous oversight.'


All federal law enforcement agencies including their forensics labs undergo outside accreditation. A former career federal agent told Exclusive News Service, "this is standard practice for local law enforcement, but is resisted at the federal and big city levels, where the majority of corruption and unaccountability exists."


All federal law enforcement agents receive standardized across-the-board training and guidelines in the 'use of deadly force.'


Other Findings of the Commission:

For the first time in history, it is 'possible for individuals to wield the kind of destructive power once reserved for sovereign nations.' Ten specific recommendations to combat terrorism are made, including:


* The training of local law enforcement to be the "first responders" to acts of terrorism.


* The protection of military, public utility, and other critical computer systems from both casual and terrorist hackers. The White House and FBI are commended for 'recent progress in this area.'


* The use of judicial supervision to balance the legitimate needs of law enforcement with the protection of citizens' privacy and civil liberties.


The entire federal criminal code should be examined and new federal criminal laws should sunset in five years unless Congress acts to extend them. The Commission writes:


"The federalization of many common crimes heretofore considered to be matters of state and local responsibility threatens to create two separate law enforcement systems, and, over the long term, will almost certainly bring law enforcement into disrepute. Citizens really should not be subject to different law enforcement systems, different penalties depending on where they are brought to trial, and an ever-lengthening possibility that they might be tried for the same offense more than once."


The report states that the recommended improvements are "sensible and needed,' and 'should have been implemented many years ago.' It also notes 'how difficult it is to bring change to large Federal agencies' that have 'been able to withstand repeated calls from experts over the years for the structural kinds of modifications proposed above.'


According to a source close to the Commission, resistance to these common sense initiatives can be summed up in the one word: "Turf." High level bureaucrats are reluctant to turn over power. The expectation is that reforms such as these will be met with resistance by certain bureaucrats and politicians who are compromised by hidden agendas. The source continued to state that the proposed enhancements would enable career federal agents to perform their jobs more effectively and professionally, and in turn benefit the people they are tasked to serve, namely the citizens of the United States.


In conclusion, the Commission writes:


"We urge Congress and the White House to move forward with these recommendations. As Edmund Burke pointed out. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Equally surely, justice and freedom must triumph if the American people, through their elected officials, put effective law enforcement at the top of the nation's agenda."

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