Trump, Advocates, and the Criminal Justice System



Polling data was wrong, and so are our perceptions of the American crime problem.

If you wondered as to how Donald Trump tapped into a wave of anger at politics in Washington, you don’t have to look much further than the crime discussion.

When we dismiss American perceptions, we get Donald Trump. We have no one to blame but ourselves.


By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. Post Master’s degree-Johns Hopkins University.


I’ve been in the criminal justice system for close to fifty years, spending much of that time managing public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies in Washington, D.C. Throughout this experience, I find an arrogance among those at the national level when addressing crime in America.

I spent decades at the local and state levels talking to an endless number of people and organizations regarding crime. They were angry that the justice system was not responsive to their needs.

They saw crime as a major factor in their lives, and they were frustrated with criminals and the system’s inability to make their lives safer. People were victimized with profound psychological distress, families suffered shared grief, neighborhoods were altered, business stayed away.

When we moved from Baltimore City to Baltimore County to the neighborhood where I grew up, about five miles from the city line, people were asking if we moved too close to Baltimore’s crime problems.

Washington D.C.

Yet when I worked in D.C., the endless advocacy groups (plus most within the federal system) where not just clueless as to the perceived plight of Americans as to crime, they were magnificently condescending. If you wondered as to how Donald Trump tapped into a wave of anger at politics in Washington, you don’t have to look much further than the crime debate.

For the record, I voted twice for President Obama, and did not vote for either Hillary or Donald Trump; I sat out this election for the first time in my voting life.

D.C. Media, and Policy Makers

Let’s take a look at a small sample of the policies and observations of D.C. media, and policy advocates:

They insisted that crime was not increasing while many of our cities were infested with homicides and violent crime. Per Gallup, American’s fear of crime is at record levels. Gun purchases are soring.

Ninety percent of the crime discussion was on reforming policing, not holding offenders accountable for their actions. Per Gallup, the most recent survey expresses strong support for American law enforcement. Hillary featured the mothers of people shot by police and placed them on center stage while saying little to nothing about support for cops.

Advocacy groups kept producing survey after survey of victims of crime who were staunchly supportive of justice reform and less of a reliance on incarceration. I was the Maryland Department of Public Safety’s chief liaison to victim rights organizations, and while with the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse, I was the senior specialist for crime prevention and victim’s issues. I never heard anyone from the victim’s movement ask for reduced incarceration or a lessening of offender accountability.

There are endless articles renouncing the effects of offenders paying fines for their misdeeds and the detrimental effects on their lives. If we are not going to incarcerate, if we are not going to place people on probation, if not fines, is there any accountability at all?

The blame for crime went towards guns, not the people who pulled the triggers.

Advocates and mainstream media created endless articles (for decades) proclaiming the need to end or lessen incarceration while the numbers in prison increased.


At what point does the average person simply rebel against the perceived pompous nature of proclamations from justice policy advocates?

When Donald Trump protests against the D.C. establishment, is he addressing us?

There are major media outlets including crime sites whose sole mission is to question the criminal justice system, not offender accountability.

Look, I understand that there is a need for criminal justice reform. We all hate bad cops. We need a community focus for policing. We over-incarcerate. We need more programs for the reintegration of offenders.

But in our advocacy, there seems to be a lack of emphasis as to accountability for people who break the law.

If we are going to create criminal justice reform, we cannot dismiss the perceptions of the American people as to their safety. We cannot heap scorn on their desire for accountability.

These are the people we serve; they are our bosses. We simply cannot reject their feelings.

When we do, we get Donald Trump, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

We are the few; the clueless, the criminal justice advocates and media allies, and we just lost any chance for meaningful justice reform.

Crime in America at

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  1. Really? I think you’ve missed the mark here.

    I think he won because of immigration and the economy, and Clinton’s inability to excite her base, which impacted voter turn out. I don’t think he won on criminal justice, and the criminal justice measures and reform-minded DA elections across the country confirm that.

    • Hi Annie: Thanks for the comment. I didn’t mean to suggest that crime was “the” major factor, just one of many. But crime does carry a considerable emotional component and does touch all Americans to some degree. You are correct about the DA elections, but they were just a handful. The return to capital punishment and the record improvement in public opinion of law enforcement would be the counterbalance.
      Best, Len.

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