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As William Barr criticizes reform prosecutors, Tampa state attorney joins chorus pushing back

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has advocated for various criminal justice reforms. [TIMES | (2018)]
Published Aug. 16

TAMPA — Earlier this week, Attorney General William Barr criticized reform-minded prosecutors throughout the nation, whose practices he said undermine police and endanger public safety.

Barr referred to district attorneys who have been elected in large cities and "style themselves as 'social justice' reformers, who spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook and refusing to enforce the law."

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren is among a chorus of public officials who are pushing back against Barr's remarks. He tweeted a sarcastic response Wednesday.

"On Monday, AG Bill Barr gave a speech calling for so-called 'tough on crime' policies and criticized reform-minded prosecutors who embrace diversion for low-level offenders and treatment (not prison) for drug users," Warren wrote. "The next day, 1987 called & asked for its policies back."

Warren was also one of 67 signatories to a statement released Friday by Fair and Just Prosecution, a national organization that advises and promotes reform-minded prosecutors. The statement called Barr's speech "deeply concerning," and pointed to data suggesting that while American crime is at historic lows, it is not due to a rise in incarceration.

"It is not the time for a return to fear-driven narratives that find no foundation in fact," the statement read. "We hope that Attorney General Barr and other national leaders will understand what facts, data and lessons learned from the past have taught us as we work to wisely use limited criminal justice resources to promote safer and stronger communities."

Barr's speech, delivered at a Fraternal Order of Police conference in New Orleans, was a clear rebuke to a national wave of prosecutors that have embraced various criminal justice forms. While the attorney general mostly focused on praise for the work of police, he digressed into political territory to slam the reformers.

"These anti-law enforcement (district attorneys) have tended to emerge in jurisdictions where the election is largely determined by the primary," Barr said. "Frequently, these candidates ambush an incumbent (district attorney) in the primary with misleading campaigns and large infusions of money from outside groups. ..."

"These cities are headed back to the days of revolving door justice. The results will be predictable. More crime; more victims."

Warren, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor, ousted Hillsborough County's longtime Republican State Attorney Mark Ober in a close race in 2016. He was largely unknown locally before the election but ran an aggressive campaign which was fueled in part by financial contributions from political action committees and crowd-funding sources based outside Hillsborough County.

In his nearly three years in office, Warren has significantly boosted his name recognition, and occasionally drawn national attention, by touting a host of accomplishments. They include his office's efforts to take guns away from people who commit domestic violence, their expanded use of civil citations and diversion programs, and the establishment of a conviction review unit to root out cases in which innocent people have been prosecuted.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com. Follow @TB_Times.

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