Sherrilyn Ifill Testifies Before President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing

On January 13, 2015,  Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), testified before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing during a public meeting held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  View the webcast here.

Ifill recounted several incidents of lethal and excessive force exercised by law enforcement against African Americans nationwide in 2014 and explained how those tragedies betrayed an ethos of explicit and implicit racial bias in policing.  Given the continuing influence of race in all facets of American life, it is unsurprising that race shapes and informs law enforcement officers encounters with civilians, transforming  routine interactions into lethal confrontations.  

Among the reforms discussed were:

Accountability in Policing:

  • All police departments should have clear policies and guidelines governing the use of force, respectful interactions between police and civilians, and improper use of race and ethnicity in police actions, including but not limited to street encounters, traffic stops and arrests. 
  • All police departments collect, and make publicly available, data related to race and police-citizen encounters, including statistical information on racial disparities in traffic stops, street encounters, arrests, and use of force incidents.
  • First-line supervisors, internal affairs units, and professional standards units should thoroughly review officer conduct and make fair and transparent findings. If allegations of police misconduct are confirmed, then police departments should impose appropriate discipline, including termination.
  • In instances when police misconduct may violate the criminal law, those cases should be immediately referred to investigatory and prosecutorial authorities that are wholly independent of the local prosecuting attorney’s office. 

Training

  • All police departments should train their officers on explicit and implicit racial bias, the appropriate use of force, de-escalation techniques, and the proper and courteous treatment of youth and individuals with mental health concerns;
  • All law enforcement training programs should reflect the best practices and remain informed by contemporary developments in social science and psychology;
  • All police departments should put in place measures to ensure that training is effective and responsive to the issues encountered by police.

Transparency

  • Police departments should provide mechanisms for civilian oversight of police.
  • Police departments should regularly collect, analyze and publicly release data related to race and policing, use of force, officer involved shootings and homicides of civilians, and other complaints, including allegations of racial bias and discrimination.
  • Police departments should make public their policies and practices regarding the use of force in police-civilian encounters and provide ample opportunity for public comment and input into policy and practice documents.

“LDF’s recommendations, which focus on accountability, training, and transparency, are informed by an overarching concern with racial bias and the dire need to eliminate its influence on policing. LDF hopes that the reform measures outlined in its submission will prove useful to the Task Force as it engages in the critically important work of improving the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they protect and serve,” says Ifill.

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