Questions Raised About New John Jay President
Reprinted from PubSecAlliance, May 10, 2017
By John Fleming
John Jay college is the preeminent academic institution for students looking to enter the field of law enforcement. Created in 1964 it was developed to examine the ever-developing role of policing in American society. The college also mixes a traditional liberal arts program. It is a public college under the City University of New York (CUNY) system. CUNY is under the control of New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.
Recently John Jay appointed a new President, Ms. Karol Mason. Ms. Mason was an Assistant Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. In a letter penned on April 21, the John Jay College Presidential Search Committee, a list of over 100 professors from John Jay, raised questions over the lack of transparency in the selection process for the new president. The professors categorized a need for the process to be “unequivocal and beyond approach.”
Unfortunately, the professors found the selection process in this case was anything but unequivocal and beyond approach. Instead, they raised serious doubt over the transparency and questioned why the candidates were not made available in a public forum for a candid and informative dialogue with the professors.
Ms. Mason served under Eric Holder, United States Attorney General under Barak Obama. Mr. Holder would never be categorized as a proponent of American policing. In fact, his use of the Attorney General’s office to dictate policy for local police departments was unprecedented. Mr. Holder opened over 20 investigations in local police agencies, he entered into agreement with 15 law enforcement agencies, including nine consent decrees.
It can be argued that Mr. Holder overstepped his authority by creating a campaign to have the federal government control the inner workings of local police departments, a mandate normally done by local municipalities.
Ms. Mason comes to John Jay from that culture. How much she was influenced by that we will never know, due to a selection process lacking public debate. There are questions still open. For example, she spoke to the group “Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement” in Oakland California. She shared the stage with Sekou Odinga, a former Black Panther who helped break Joanne Chesimard out of jail. The same Joanne Chesimard who ruthlessly gunned down a New Jersey State Trooper. Also present were founding members of the Black Lives Matters movement.
I am a graduate of the college and a police officer for three decades, serving part of that time as a union president. I am not naïve and do not believe American policing is doing fine and dandy. But when we explore the problem, are we asking the right questions?
Police officers do not write the laws they enforce, they do not make policy, they do not put people in jail; that is the job of the District Attorney. They also do not control municipal budgets.
We should be taking a close look at cities, states, and counties that use their law enforcement agencies as sources of revenue. We also need to study the standards of training in those jurisdictions where there are a lot of complaints about abuse. We also need to take a close look at the services we are providing for officers with burnout and PTSD. I would have liked to hear the new president’s opinion on those subjects.
John Jay College is the gateway to law enforcement in New York State. Today’s student is tomorrow’s cop. University presidents have tremendous power, in that they will shape the university with their values and interests if they hire professors who share their views and eliminate those who do not agree with them.
Many high-level police administrators can trace their roots back to John Jay. It is imperative that whoever has the privilege of running this prestigious university maintain a neutral atmosphere so debate can flourish and everyone can express their opinion.
John Fleming was president of the NYC Detective Investigators Association for 15 years, having recently retired. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and a Master’s Degree in public administration from John Jay College.