On May 19, LDF submitted a statement containing recommendations on police strategies for the House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Policing Strategies for the 21st Century,” to address the waning public trust in the police (mostly within communities of color). This lack of trust is largely due to this country’s history of racial discrimination, the spate of fatal shootings of unarmed African Americans across the country, and the decisions of grand juries not to indict officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Mike Brown in Missouri.
As President Obama recently commented, police violence against persons of color “is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new. The good news is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness … that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities.”
With that newfound awareness, LDF is urging Congress to fix pervasive and long-standing deficiencies in police strategies, training and supervision. It is now incumbent upon Congress to exercise its federal oversight and funding responsibilities to undertake needed reforms that promote transparency, training, reporting, review, and ultimately accountability of law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. The hearing represents an important step toward that ambitious and necessary goal.
“Improving the relationships between law enforcement and communities is absolutely critical. But doing so requires ensuring that police officers are appropriately and properly trained, and this training must address explicit and implicit racial bias, the use of force, and de-escalation techniques. At a minimum, officers must be trained in the following ways: (1) taught to acknowledge and confront the attitudes and biases that shape their behavior; (2) given clear guidance on the appropriate use of force; and (3) trained to de-escalate encounters and engage in respectful policing, including identifying and addressing mental health conditions in civilians. Such training will effect a change in the culture of policing, which will in turn help to bridge the gulf of mistrust that has formed as a result of a seemingly growing number of tragic police-citizen encounters.”