We’re big fans of Rep. Garret Graves here at the Hayride, as he’s usually one of the more level-headed and intelligent members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation while having an uncommonly good handle on the failures of the federal government to address policy problems.
But Graves this week unfurled something that can only be seen as a departure from his usual good sense…
In the wake of last week’s police shooting of Alton Sterling, the two congressmen representing Baton Rouge will introduce legislation Wednesday to provide police with training on de-escalating incidents and help law enforcement get nonlethal weapons.
Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was killed by Baton Rouge police in a convenience store parking lot on July 5 following a brief confrontation. Since his death, which was caught on graphic video, there have been several days of protests throughout the city that have led to nearly 200 arrests.
The two congressmen, one a white Republican, the other a black Democrat, said it is important to find some way to address the growing violence and the divide between law enforcement and many members of the public. Their bill won’t tackle all the issues, but it’s way to get started quickly.
They plan to introduce the legislation first thing Wednesday morning in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure likely will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
“It is important that we respond now and show that we get it,” said U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who represents the north Baton Rouge neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
“We don’t think this is the end-all. But we think that starting to look at this research is a very good start,” he said in an interview with The Advocate late Tuesday.
“Congressman Richmond and I are trying to come up with some solutions, at least in the interim, ” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who lives about two miles from where the shooting took place.
Sounds OK so far, sure. Except for this…
The bill would establish a new office within the U.S. Department of Justice to review, develop and deploy nonlethal technology, Graves said in an interview with The Advocate late Tuesday. It would also provide funds for training police around the country on de-escalation techniques.
The new Justice Department office would look at technology being developed by the military and at the Office of Homeland Security, then try to refine those weapons for law enforcement. Additionally, it would look to developing new technologies, Graves said.
Graves says they’re going to move money around in the federal budget so this office they’re creating will get started with $150 million in initial funding, then $100 million a year for years two through four, then $125 million in the fifth year.
First, why is there $150 million worth of slack in the Justice Department’s budget? Why hasn’t that fat been cut? Second, why should anyone believe that an entirely new office set up in the federal bureaucracy is ever going to be restricted to its original funding levels? Third, why is it a good idea to put the Justice Department further in control of local police – a direction the Obama administration has been pushing willy-nilly for eight years despite universal condemnation on the Right with horror over the idea of a federalized police force?
That federalized police force won’t come in one fell swoop. It’s going to come incrementally, with hundreds or thousands of small cuts like this one.
Would it be a good idea for the police to come up with more and better non-lethal techniques to effect arrests on recalcitrant suspects like Alton Sterling? Of course it would. Should police be given training on how to better de-escalate confrontations with recalcitrant suspects? Sure, though if a 360-pound man who may be under the influence of controlled substances (Sterling was tased and it didn’t affect him much, which would make him highly unusual were he sober) doesn’t want to be arrested, what will follow will be unpleasant no matter what techniques are used.
But what we need are techniques to solve these problems which also serve to de-escalate government. The Justice Department needs shrinking, not growing. And if anything, the police need more freedom to evolve and innovate away from the crushing hand of Washington.
Has federal involvement in infrastructure made for the wide dissemination of new technologies? Not really, huh? How have the feds done with health care? Education?
Inserting more federal control into the thin blue line, whether through this idea or lots of the others being bandied about, is a lousy idea. A new office in the Justice Department is only going to further bureaucratize, federalize and stultify law enforcement, whatever the intentions behind creating it.
That Richmond would come up with a plan like this is expected. He’s a socialist. He’s the guy with the hammer, to whom every problem looks like a nail. Graves ought to know better.
UPDATE: Graves’ office asked that we make three points in his favor, so we’ll pass those along.
First, they note that this is not slack in the Justice Department being moved around to start this new office. Instead, they’re going to try to get the federal government to sell some buildings that it doesn’t need which would bring an estimated $1.5 billion in cash into the treasury, a portion of which would be used on this project.
Second, they say that the grants this office would be doling out to local police are all voluntary, so there is no actual federalizing of the police going on with this idea.
And third, they say this is only a five-year program which would be sunsetted in 2022.
We don’t doubt their good intentions. We just can’t see any way those intentions become reality with this administration and the one likely to follow it. And if dangling federal dollars in front of local governments isn’t an automatic way to get them to dance to Washington’s tune, it’s the closest thing to it.
Given the mess the Alton Sterling shooting has caused, we have zero doubt the BRPD would gladly embrace some form of technology that would relieve the necessity to shoot recalcitrant suspects like Sterling was. In fact, we would be more than willing to bet BRPD will seek out that technology with or without federal help, and if not we think a demand by the people of Baton Rouge ought to be sufficient to make that happen. Poking the Justice Department into the equation will only pervert that process.