- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A new poll showing overwhelming support for police reform demands the creation of hiring databases to weed out bad cops, Rep. Doug Collins said at a Wednesday morning roundtable discussion.

Responding to a question from The Washington Times during the virtual event, the Georgia Republican said the databases would help understaffed police departments avoid hiring problematic officers who jump from one jurisdiction to another.

“Those are the kinds of things that begin to weed out the officers who should not be there and concentrate on the ones who should,” Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Collins, a frequent cosponsor of police and criminal justice legislation in the House, said police training and accountability are “personal” for him because his father served for 30 years as a trooper in the George State Patrol.

“Nothing broke his heart more than to see an officer do wrong,” he said.

Mr. Collins made his remarks at a virtual roundtable discussing a Barna Group survey of 1,519 U.S. adults and an additional 300 who qualified as “practicing Christians.” Conducted online from April 15 to May 19 on behalf of the Christian nonprofit Prison Fellowship, the newly released poll shows that only 10% of Americans oppose police reform.  

“Police can be held responsible for criminal acts. The problem is many times in the past prosecutors and law enforcement were a coalition team, and one was not going to deal with the other. That’s starting to change,” Mr. Collins told The Times.

In the survey, 77% of adults also said they believe that having additional policing in high-crime areas makes communities “a lot or somewhat safer,” rising to 86% among practicing Christians.

Sarah Field, vice president of the philanthropy nonprofit Stand Together, said the poll makes it clear that “most Americans” want both police reforms and safer communities.

“We need police to focus on preventing and solving serious crime — not going after things like loose cigarettes with Eric Garner, nor parking ticket enforcement like in Ferguson, not a potential forged $20 bill like with George Floyd and not the massive amount of drug enforcement occurring in every neighborhood every day,” Ms. Field told The Times after the event.

Echoing Mr. Collins, she said the poll results confirm that “accountability and training are equally needed.”

“The role of policing must be right-sized or refocused,” she said.

On the topic of prison reform, the poll found that 88% of all Americans and 90% of practicing Christians support flexible prison release opportunities.

But while 73% of all respondents opposed housing restrictions for people with criminal records, and 69% favored calling them “returning citizens” rather than “ex-felons,” only 54% expressed willingness to live in the same neighborhood.

Darryl Brooks, an ex-convict who spent 15 years in prison and now works with Prison Fellowship, said that such obstacles make it difficult to reduce recidivism.  

“We want men and women to do great things when they get out,” he said.

Mr. Collins, a sponsor of the bipartisan First Step Act that President Donald Trump signed into law in December 2018, called the survey results about prison reform “encouraging.”

The First Step Act reformulated federal sentencing guidelines and offered incentives for inmates to earn early release.

“All of this is, I think, pointing in the right direction,” Mr. Collins said during the panel.

He added that the poll challenges “the faith community” to find “faith-based private solutions as well” as government solutions, welcoming ex-convicts and assisting them with their needs.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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