State criminal justice leaders were encouraged on Wednesday to take a more active role in fighting crime and reforming the criminal justice system.
The pleas came from two veterans of battles over justice policies in the states, Adam Gelb of the think tank Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) and Marshall Clement of the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
Gelb and Clement spoke at the final program of a three-day joint symposium co-sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA), the Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA) and SEARCH, a national consortium for justice information and statistics.
NCJA represents agencies in every state that distribute federal anticrime funds. JRSA members include criminal justice statistical analysis centers in each state. Leaders of both groups advise governors and state legislators on anticrime policies.
Clement and Gelb told the conference that despite the fact that homicide totals and some other crime figures are down since the pandemic ebbed, national crime rates remain high and public trust in the criminal justice system has dropped.
Surveys cited by Clement found that less than 20 percent of Americans have confidence in the justice system and 40 percent are very dissatisfied with anticrime policies.
Although homicide numbers are down in many big cities this year, found a Council on Criminal Justice in a survey issued last week, surveys show that a majority of Americans believe crime is rising in their areas and there is a "huge variation" in crime trends among the states, Clement said.
One trend that disturbs many citizens is that fewer major crimes are being solved by police. "Clearance rate" data showed that 4,500 murders nationwide were unsolved in 2011 while 8,200 went unsolved more than a decade later. Crimes against black people were much less likely to be solved, Clement noted.
He suggested that states put more of a focus on better training of justice system employees and adopting "best practices" used by other states.
"Practical solutions hide in plain side," Clement declared.
He suggested that government leaders tell "compelling stories" about what they are doing to prevent crime and solve offenses, and not let public opinion be based on anecdotes about justice system problems. "This is a time for leadership."
Picking up on that theme, Gelb cited a report issued last year by his group on "10 essential actions" that government leaders could take to fight crime without enacting new legislation.
Among them are adopting specific goals (Gelb believes a 10 percent reduction in homicides and shootings is doable). bearing down on people and places driving violence trends, and assigning accountability for anticrime actions to the highest officials, typically governors, mayors and county executives, not police chiefs.
"We can't look only to law enforcement for solutions," Gelb said.
As things now stand, he said, many state leaders are "squeezed out of the conversation" on crime. They tend to concentrate on distributing federal anticrime money and defer on policies to cities, which may pursue widely disparate plans to combat violence.
The symposium concluded Wednesday after more than two dozen panel discussions on subjects including mass violence, crime data, tracing of crime guns and "clean slate" laws on expunging criminal records.