Disaster and the Criminal Justice System

Topics: Police, Criminal justice, Law enforcement agency Pages: 17 (5684 words) Published: March 17, 2013
Who’s in Charge Here?
Some Observations on the Relationship
Between Disasters and the American Criminal Justice System

Robert J. Louden, Ph.D.
Professor and Program Director, Criminal Justice
Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice
Georgian Court University
900 Lakewood Avenue, Lakewood, New Jersey 08701
(732) 987-2711 loudenr@georgian.edu www.georgian.edu

Abstract: Since the beginning of time the world has experienced a wide range of disasters. Responsibility for organizing and directing responses to disasters has varied over time and from place to place. The core functions of the American criminal justice system were established between 1776 and the adoption of the US Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights in 1789. However, it was not until 1967 that our federal government produced a schematic that graphically presented both the process and the major decision points of the criminal justice system. Although disaster related activity has been present and accepted as a central function of many criminal justice agencies, it did not appear in this significant document. A brief overview of the American criminal justice system is offered. The aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 09/11/01 and the hurricanes of 2005 have illuminated many problems and concerns confronting the criminal justice system as a major component of government response to disasters. Practical experiences in NYC and New Orleans are highlighted. Broad based recommendations for research are suggested.

As with any discussion involving links between disasters and a given discipline, the relationship between this subject and the criminal justice system are extensive and complex. In our society criminal justice is perhaps the ultimate multi-disciplinary discipline. At a minimum, aspects of the law, political science, public health, public management, psychology, and sociology influence the practical, tactical and legal activities of criminal justice system agencies on a daily basis. All of these sometimes complementary and sometimes contradictory interactions converge in disaster planning and response. Disaster in this paper is regarded to be a nonspecific event and includes natural and man-made incidents. There are numerous overlapping practical associations that one must be concerned with when considering this topic. One set of issues is relevant to the mandate of an individual criminal justice organization; a second is the interconnected bureaucratic concerns of police, the courts and corrections. Another is the involvement of the machinery of criminal justice with the broader community that it is part of. Within this context one must also remember that given the nature of governmental and political sub-divisions in the US: federal, state, county, and local, linkages are far-reaching and potentially confusing if not conflicting. The concerns of issues related to ‘states-rights’ and ‘home-rule’ have influenced the development of criminal justice agencies, and their organizational mandates, throughout the country. Although our federal government does not directly control most of the criminal justice agencies in the US, there are several ways in which local policy and practice may be influenced by Washington through various court decisions, rule settings, investigative bodies, oversight mechanisms and funding. All of this has had an impact upon the role of law enforcement in emergency management in the United States. This paper reflects on the topic of disaster and the discipline of criminal justice from a number of perspectives: inter and intra operations of criminal justice agencies, and the collaboration or lack there of, between criminal justice agencies and other aspects of governance. Portions of this paper are anecdotal in nature, based on the author’s participant-observer status during an active twenty-one year career in policing and a subsequent eighteen year career...
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