By Srijan Sen
In light of recent turmoil between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, President Barack Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing in December 2014.
The aim was to recommend measures that may bridge the growing legitimacy gap police and society.
The group had 90 days to come up with specific solutions that will strengthen public trust and foster strong relationships between local law enforcement and the communities that they protect, while also promoting effective crime reduction.
The task force chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson also comprised of several community leaders, law enforcement leaders, academics and practitioners.
“Last year, the events in Ferguson and New York exposed a deep-rooted frustration in many communities of color around the need for fair and just law enforcement,” the President said.
The task force engaged Federal, State, tribal, local officials, technical advisers, young leaders, and nongovernmental organizations through several meetings to provide a transparent process and engage with the public.
Throughout the course of three months, listening sessions were held, during which testimony, including proposed recommendations, from invited witnesses and comments from the public, were taken into consideration.
For task force member Susan Rahr, the burning dilemma was the training provided to police officers akin to military personnel.
“Although police officers wear uniforms and carry weapons, the similarity ends there,” Rahr wrote. “The missions and rules of engagement are completely different.”
Militarization of local police forces became the highlight of the Ferguson unrest last year.
Pictures of police officers dressed in combat uniform with armored vehicles patrolling the streets further upset the city of Ferguson and terrified the rest of the nation.
More recently, Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore police custody sparked national outrage, as historic separation between the residents of Baltimore and its police department became the center of attention once again.
The task force suggested that when serious incidents occur, including those involving alleged police misconduct, agencies should communicate with citizens and the media swiftly, openly, and neutrally, respecting areas where the law requires confidentiality.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts described the process of accountability in the city with the commissioning of a study to evaluate the police department and the community’s views of the agency.
“The review uncovered broken policies, outdated procedures, outmoded technology, and operating norms that put officers at odds with the community they are meant to serve,” Batts wrote.
Ultimately, the Baltimore police created the Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau, tasked with rooting out corruption, holding officers accountable, and implementing national best practices for police and training.
Among a plethora of recommendations, the task force suggested some form of civilian oversight of law enforcement in order to strengthen trust with the community.
A 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that trust in law enforcement is high among white residents, although African-American and Hispanic communities unanimously distrust police officers on use of excessive force and equal protection under the law.
To address this pressing issue, the task force suggested that law enforcement agencies should proactively promote public trust by initiating positive non-enforcement activities to engage communities that typically have high rates of investigative and enforcement involvement with government agencies.
Witness testimony provided by California resident Laura Murphy pointed out how law enforcement targets people of color for the isolated actions of a few.
It tags an entire community as lawless when 95 percent are law-abiding.
The initial report submitted this month provides an array of action plans and recommendations aimed to restore legitimacy to policing in America.
Even though the task force provides a comprehensive list of plausible policy amendments, the sole responsibility of revamping community policing by implementing different strategies rests on individual police departments.
The Task Force concluded the report advocating for the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force to review and evaluate the entire criminal justice system, and suggest reforms.