By Cynthia Price
On Jan. 20, Patrick A. Miles Jr. left his U.S. District Attorney for the Western District position, ending his tenure at the same time as his Harvard Law School classmate President Barack Obama, who appointed Miles.
He departed with positive feelings about what the U.S. Attorney’s Office was able to do in the four years following his 2012 appointment. In a statement, he commented, “We get tremendous results in this Office and every day it feels like we make a positive difference.”
Miles added in an interview, “I feel that I accomplished all the initiatives that I wanted to start in the Office, particularly around protecting the vulnerable — seniors from fraud and children from exploitation, as well as the American taxpayer.”
The initiatives he references include:
—Increased emphasis on prosecuting sex trafficking offenses under Federal law, starting in 2014 with a successful prosecution against a man who trafficked three teenage girls, and continuing with 11 more, along with 106 convictions involving sexual exploitation of children using the internet.
—Addressing violent crime in the seven heavily-urban cities within the Western District’s jurisdiction, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Holland, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Muskegon/Muskegon Heights. The Office formed a violent crime reduction task force and worked closely with local officials and law enforcement to develop solutions that worked in each setting. One result was indictment and conviction of 31 members and associates of the Holland Latin Kings, effectively eliminating the dangerous gang.
—Development of trust-building between the people and law enforcement in the communities he served. He co-chaired the already-existing Grand Rapids chapter of Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT), and helped form and support ALPACT groups in other cities. He met with law enforcement officials and participated in listening sessions with community members.
“Law enforcement in communities have the same goal as neighbors: they want peace, they want justice, they want safety. There’s been a tension that we’ve seen in other places like Ferguson, which is a result of misunderstandings when the trust breaks down. Unless you have communication, you can’t have a relationship and if you don’t have a relationship you can’t have trust. I was just determined from the outset that we weren’t going to have that kind of an outbreak in our community,” Miles says.
“When I met with those communities, I asked, are officer-involved shooting protocols in place, are we using all the best practices before, during and after to prevent incidents?” Miles continued.
“One problem I think we still have is that the police chiefs tend to have great relationships with the faith community, and getting the word out to congregations is important, but we know that young people are on social media, so there needs to be increased outreach that way.”
—The “Facing Choices” program Miles started in 2014, where he and such law enforcement officials as the sheriff, the chief of police, and federal agents, as well as the county prosecutor, speak to citizens re-entering society from prison about what they face and the social services that support them.
“Law enforcement was very amenable to that effort. They were really forward-thinking. I think they really see their jobs as not just
locking people up, but doing things to prevent problems in their communities.
“I wanted the U.S. Attorney’s Office to be proactive, not just to prosecute criminals but also to prevent crimes from happening in the first place, both because of the cost and because of the victims suffering. When people leave prison, the national figures are that two-thirds are back in the criminal justice system within three years. That’s a terrible return on investment,” Miles says.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also held a job fair last fall, bringing together about 200 returning citizens with 20 employers in Grand Rapids.
In a statement, Miles noted, “Employment is crime prevention. If a prison sentence results in a life-time ban on employment, then people will likely return to criminal activity.”
—Miles, who supports hiring veterans, acted on his convictions when it came to staffing his Office. Right away, he hired an assistant U.S. Attorney who had been a Major in the Army and served in Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay. Miles continued that trend with his Administrator Officer, Human Resources Officer, Budget Officer, and executive assistant. For that, he received a 2013 Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee.
—Miles launched an educational program called Justice Scholars at Gerald R. Ford Middle School in Grand Rapids. Working professionals including law enforcement agents and officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, give an hour-long lesson to seventh-graders about their fields, ending in a mock trial. The program has expanded to Lansing Middle School.
—He prosecuted a number of health care providers for fraud, as he said he would do in 2012.
—Miles reorganized the office for greater effectiveness and public contact, and instituted strategic planning.
In these efforts, Miles says he was “absolutely” supported by the Department of Justice. “The Obama Administration, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and now Loretta Lynch very much encouraged these types of efforts. Similar initiatives were going on nationwide, in different forms,” Miles says.
AG Lynch commented in a prepared statement, “Since 2012, Patrick A. Miles, Jr. has served the Western District of Michigan — and the American people — with distinction and honor... I want to thank Patrick for his tireless devotion to the cause of justice, and I wish him the very best in the next chapter of his career.”
Miles’ sense of having accomplished a lot of what he set out to do should not be construed to mean that he will not miss serving in the position. “I really enjoyed my public service as U.S. Attorney. It was certainly a high honor — such a rewarding experience, the work that we did. And it’s a hard job to replicate – there are very few jobs that are so satisfying,” he comments.
Miles has not yet determined what is next for him, but the former candidate for Congress does not rule out running for office. “I’m giving it a lot of thought, but if I run again it would most likely be in a statewide race,” he says.
Miles is a strong competitor, even though he lost his bid to be a U.S. Representative in 2010. Despite the competition in his illustrious 1991 class at Harvard (which, in addition to President Obama, included several high-ranking government officials and a former Republican National Committee chair), the Grand Rapids native and Aquinas College graduate was the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Record.
He was also the first African-American partner at Varnum, at the tender age of 29, before practicing at Dickinson Wright.
As far as future concerns for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Miles says points to two. “First, I hope the Office still gives a lot of attention to the opioid epidemic and prescribing painkillers,” he says. “It’s a very difficult addiction that’s hitting every demographic — rural, urban, suburban, rich and poor.”
Miles partnered with the Eastern District U.S. Attorney and others for the first statewide Prescription Drug Awareness Summit in 2013.
“And second,” he adds, “outreach between the Department of Justice and the Middle Eastern communities should continue, making sure that they feel they are part of the solution in combatting potentially violent extremism that comes from a small minority of Muslims. We built a good relationship with the Grand Rapids Middle Eastern Muslim community, and I think that sends a message that helps prevent young people from becoming radicalized.”
Additional information can be found at https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdmi/year-review (for years 2012-2016).