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Randy Petersen | December 7, 2018
The First Step Act is coming up against the clock. For everyone observing its evolution into the largest criminal justice reform package in a generation and its growing bipartisan support, falling short of the finish line is an end that is unthinkable and even more unexplainable.
On November 9th, the National Fraternal Order of Police, representing over 325,000 members of law enforcement, endorsed the bill. This is unprecedented, and gave conservatives with any lingering concern over the bill’s support among our nation’s police officers no more cause for worry as their support was shouted from the mountaintops in that letter.
In a December 6th piece, an influential Republican senator notes that even at this 11th hour, there is time to gain the support of a “conservative” group like the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), whose withholding of their support for the bill is of supposed concern to him and others. One of the “conservative” demands made by this “conservative” group of elected (read: politicians) law enforcement officials is the expansion of Medicaid. Yes, that is correct. In order for some conservatives to get the support of the National Sheriffs Association, they must consider Medicaid expansion. If the NSA had led with that statement rather than putting it in their closing paragraph, they risked exposing themselves as what they are: a group of politicians who participate in law enforcement activities and seek to push their costs onto the federal government, which ultimately means taxpayers outside their jurisdiction would bear the cost.
Sounds conservative doesn’t it? Respects federalism, holds costs down….well, not really. What it would do is reduce sheriffs’ fiscal responsibility and incentive to reform their own or state-level practices such as bail reform (fewer inmates on pre-trial confinement, which is the largest cost to sheriffs running a jail), over-criminalization (fewer inmates cost less), and diversion programs that keep non-violent offenders out of their jails and off of their expense sheets. Those needed reforms would not see the light of day if the sheriffs are able to shift their costs to the federal government.
The 325,000 police officers that make up the Fraternal Order of Police are not elected political operatives. Police officers do not have a political agenda, they do a job where they have taken an oath to serve and protect their communities. It would be fair to assess them as a right-of-center group, but not necessarily a political one. For those conservatives who rightly are concerned with the view of law enforcement, you got it on November 9th when the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed the First Step Act. Pretending to wait for support from an association of elected officials demanding the expansion of Medicaid is shameful.