Analysis and Commentary on Law Enforcement

How a School Bus With No Wheels Taught Me to See Past Silos

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes inspiring story of the "Walking School Bus" in Olneyville, the low-income, predominately Latino neighborhood on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island. The Walking School Bus is a small group of parents who walk through a set route on a specified timetable, escorting children through dangerous areas to safely arrive at their respective schools. Margulies points out that this example is but one example of the importance of recognizing the intersection public health, crime, criminal justice, and policing-all critical and interrelated components of building stronger and safer communities.

The Seduction of Piety

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of what he calls "pious stories" that come up in discussions of the criminal justice system, explaining why the media and policy-makers continue to repeat these stories despite their being egregiously incorrect or even dangerously incomplete. Margulies points to three characteristics common to all three of these stories: they reduce complex social processes into over-simplified parables about heroes and villains, they engender racial colonialism, and they are perpetuated by people deeply committed to criminal justice reform.

Two (But Only Two) Jeers for Enforcing the Federal Marijuana Law in Legalized States

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent announcement by Attorney General Sessions that the Trump Department of Justice was rescinding an Obama administration policy toward state-legal marijuana. Dorf argues that the policy shift breaks promises by then-candidate Trump and then-Senator Sessions, but that objections to the new policy on federalism grounds are largely misguided.

My Resolution for 2018: Less Piety, More Complexity

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes three stories among those who study the criminal justice system that are pejoratively described as “pious.” Margulies explains what it means to be a “pious story,” why such stories exist (because simple narratives are the easiest to translate into policy), and calls upon himself and others on both the Right and Left to abandon “pious” stories and tell whole truths instead.

Body Worn Cameras: The Dog That Won’t Bark

Cornell University law professor Joe Margulies comments on the findings of a recent study of police body cameras that body-worn cameras made no statistically significant difference in how police go about their jobs. Margulies points out that the story is not in the absence of a difference, but in people’s surprise to the absence of a difference. Indeed, it is the routine, not the anomalous, that requires reform.

Changing Places by Changing Ourselves

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the transformation of Olneyville, a low-income neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, as the result of comprehensive place-based solutions to crime and disorder. Margulies points out that the most difficult challenge to place-based strategies is politics and that before we can expect to meaningfully change places for the better, we must come to certain fundamental understandings of ourselves and our society.

Should the Law Permit Sexual Contact Between Police and Suspects?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the law in at least three states that permits police officers to have sexual contact with people they suspect of prostitution. Colb explains the rationale behind these laws and argues that under three prevailing philosophical approaches to the law—libertarian, feminist, and traditional morality-based—such contact should not be permissible.

Don’t Shred the Evidence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments critically on the decision by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to destroy certain records regarding detainees held in ICE custody. Margulies argues that the information ICE seeks to destroy can be helpful in assessing the conditions, staffing, supervision, and practices in various facilities, for the purpose of improving the worst ones and learning from the ones with the best practices.

Phillips

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes the remarkable transformation of Phillips, a community in Minneapolis, from “Murderapolis” to a thriving, vibrant, safe community. Margulies uses this example to point out that when police and communities they serve work together effectively, truly positive change can emerge.

Puzzles About Police Violence

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers why it is so difficult for people to have productive conversations about police shootings. Margulies calls upon us to ask not whether an officer involved in a shooting is a monster or a hero, but instead whether tomorrow we can do better.

What Employment Discrimination Law Teaches About the Comey Firing

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on President Trump’s decision Tuesday night to fire FBI Director James Comey. Though Title VII obviously does not apply to Trump’s action, Dorf analogizes to the framework used in Title VII employment discrimination contexts to demonstrate that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests Trump’s asserted grounds for firing Comey were pretextual.

Can We Stop the Attorney General?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears poised to take criminal justice reform nationwide in the wrong direction. Margulies explains why place-based, problem-solving approaches improve community wellbeing better than saturation policing strategies like Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance.

The Corner Market

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how implementation of “criminology of place” can improve communities without expanding the carceral state. Margulies draws upon a specific example out of Cincinnati illustrating the power of actions based on criminology of place.

Changing Places

Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains the recent trend in criminal justice reform in Seattle to alter conditions that make a particular place criminogenic. As Margulies explains, most people and places have no involvement in criminal activity, and crime—especially violent crime—occurs at a tiny number of micro-places. Thus, the solution is not for police to view crime as widespread throughout a particular neighborhood and therefore increase police presence generally; rather, if they think of crime as confined to a small number of people and concentrated at an even smaller number of places, they can focus on working with, rather than against, communities to make them safer.

The Many Faces of Backlash

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers how the politics of quiescence and backlash might manifest itself in the areas of criminal justice and national security. As to national security, Margulies predicts that backlash will be particularly potent, but as to criminal justice, his poor decisions that disproportionately affect poor people of color will unable to generate the same political resonance.

Clear Thinking About the Ferguson Effect

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies discusses the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” a hypothesis that increased public scrutiny of police violence correlates to higher rates of violent crime. Margulies argues that even if the Ferguson Effect is real—which he does not concede—the alternative of Zero Tolerance and other similar policies wreak havoc on poor communities of color. Margulies makes the case for communities having their own say in how they are policed.

Can Criminal Justice Reform Survive Cleveland?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies laments the revival of the “law and order” rhetoric triggered by the recent shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge and seized upon as common ground for Donald Trump and the GOP. Margulies explains why greater police presence and more arrests actually make communities less safe, rather than safer, and argues that such changes threaten to undo the progress made in the criminal justice system over the past several decades.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in con... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more