Thomas Nolan

  • August 30, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Departmentpolice lights

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the 63rd Biennial Conference of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) on Monday, August 28 in Nashville, Tennessee. In his remarks, he observed that the police are “fighting a multi-front battle” that is characterized by “an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, (and) threats from terrorism.” This set the stage for his depiction of law enforcement as the “thin blue line,” that is the only thing standing between “sanctity and lawlessness.” It was within this context that Sessions cited a rollback of former President Obama’s January 2015 Executive Order 13688, which established a Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group, a group charged with establishing guidelines and processes for law enforcement agencies’ acquisition of surplus military equipment from the federal government. In an executive order to be signed later in the day, the police would once again have unfettered access to surplus military equipment and be free to use federal funds to purchase military-grade weapons, ammunition, vehicles, aircraft, and other military equipment.

  • March 15, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Also, this piece was written in response to the March 9 ACS National Symposium on Policing in a New Political Era. The full video of this event can be found here.

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    One of the attendees at last week’s symposium on “Policing in a New Political Era,” co-sponsored by the American Constitution Society and New America, asked whether we should consider the abolition of policing in America. My fellow panelist, Cardozo School of Law Professor Ekow Yankah, deftly responded that it may indeed be time to “reimagine” policing in America. And so it is.

    An insightful March 12 Washington Post article by Katie Zezima observed “police officers [are] acting as drug counselors and medical workers and shifting from law-and-order tactics to approaches more akin to social work” and that the police now envision their roles as mental-health workers and doctors. In fairness to the police, these are roles into which they have been, unwittingly and perhaps unwillingly, thrust in a societal expectation that the police are the default “responders” with responsibilities for dealing with the social marginalia that they are neither properly trained or qualified to undertake.

    The police are deserving of praise for adopting strategies in dealing with the opioid crisis that no longer see enforcement strategies as the only tactics in dealing with drugs and drug abusers, but it is fair to question whether or not policing in this nascent political era should include having police “generalists” providing medical, mental health and social work services to vulnerable populations of people, throwaways whom those charting course in this political era would just as soon see disappear. The police are filling voids here in professional disciplines and in providing medical and mental health services that will almost invariably be inadequate to the task. Reimagining the role of the police recognizes that these vital services need to be provided to those who need them the most by professionals trained to treat the sick, the broken and the mentally ill.   

  • March 6, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    Much has been written in this forum of police misconduct, abuse, discrimination and violence (and I have certainly made contributions here). But much of what I have seen of the police and their resistance to a role in the enforcement of federal immigration laws is heartening and cause for a glimmer of optimism in what is otherwise, with the “shackles off” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) agents, descending into chaos, fear, danger and peril for residents of immigrant communities across the United States. Police chiefs and sheriffs from sixty-three agencies who are members of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force recently sent a letter to the U.S. Senate in which they disavow support for the involvement of local and county police and sheriff’s agencies in the enforcement of civil immigration laws. In the letter, the chiefs and sheriffs emphasize their role in “preserving the safety of our communities and upholding the rule of law” and that their participation in the enforcement of non-criminal immigration laws would “harm locally based, community-oriented policing.” And so it would.

    The backlash against the deputizing of local law enforcement under the nefarious ICE 287(g) program continues to position ICE’s draconian detention and removal policy against the local law enforcement mandate to ensure the safety of all community residents, regardless of their immigration status. According to the New York Times, Mayor Bill di Blasio refuses to turn the NYPD into a deportation force because residents will become fearful of the police and be reluctant to report crimes or to cooperate in criminal investigations, to the detriment of community safety. “If so many of our fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented feared to communicate with the local authorities because they thought they might be deported, we couldn’t run our city,” he said.

  • January 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    I.        Immigration Enforcement 

    Count on the nascent Trump administration to involve law enforcement in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. And too often the law enforcement agencies that can inflict the most damage on the relationships between immigrant communities and their police will be the first to embrace a role in the enforcement of immigration laws, a role that is particularly unsuitable for the police in the twenty-first century United States. 

    In Massachusetts, the bluest of the blue states, a county sheriff recently offered to send inmates at the county jail to the Mexican border to help build the Trumpian “wall.” Thankfully sheriffs in Massachusetts are jailers and civil process servers and not police, but the suggestion, though clearly illegal and unconstitutional, that some law enforcement officials welcome a potential role in the enforcement of federal immigration laws is worrisome. There are over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States: local, county, state, and special jurisdiction, and these departments may present an attractive “force multiplier” in the enforcement of federal immigration laws should the Trump administration seek to broaden the imprint of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). The resurrection of the moribund “287 (g)” program or some similar collaborative model for the joint federal-local-state-county enforcement of immigration laws would be catastrophic for immigrant communities.

    The police are typically unaware that entry into the United States without the appropriate documentation authorizing such entry, while against the law, is a civil infraction and not a criminal violation (unless the individual has been previously deported). Too many of the police are also unaware that they do not have the authority to ask community residents with whom they come into contact for immigration documents (and this is a common practice in immigrant communities). In the eyes of many of the police, undocumented immigrants are criminals who have no rights under the Constitution and who should be arrested and immediately deported.

  • January 17, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    On Thursday, Jan. 12, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) entered into a consent decree whereby the BPD agreed to stipulated changes in the ways that it conducts policing in the city, specifically in communities of color. In August of 2016 the DOJ had released the results of its investigation into the BPD where it found that the BPD “engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution as well as federal anti-discrimination laws. BPD makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.”

    The following day, on Friday, Jan. 13, the DOJ announced the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department (CPD) where it found that the CPD “engages in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.” The DOJ and the city of Chicago “have signed an agreement in principle to work together, with community input, to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the investigation.”

    The DOJ has investigated over two dozen law enforcement agencies during the Obama administration and has entered into consent decrees with many of these departments after investigations typically revealed agency-wide deficiencies in training, supervision and internal investigative oversight. Most often the DOJ investigations found “pattern and practice” violations of constitutional, civil rights and civil liberties protections, as well as widespread instances of excessive force and unlawful stops, searches and arrests, most often in communities of color. Police departments in Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh and Detroit have been under federal oversight in recent years, as well as in Albuquerque and Cleveland.