6 Things the Obama Administration Is Doing to Improve Police-Community Relations

PHOTO: President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about Ferguson, Mo., before speaking at the Copernicus Community Center in Chicago to discuss immigration reform, Nov. 25, 2014. PlayPablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo
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Amid continued tension between police and communities of color, President Obama will travel to Camden, New Jersey this afternoon to highlight the city’s efforts improve police-community relations.

In cities like Camden, “for too long, both jobs and hope have been hard to find. That sense of unfairness and powerlessness has helped to fuel the kind of unrest we've seen in Ferguson and Baltimore and New York and other cities across our country,” White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told reporters. “It has many causes, from a basic lack of opportunity to folks feeling unfairly targeted by the police.”

But Camden – recently named a “promise zone” and a My Brother’s Keeper community challenge partner – is making strides, and the Obama administration wants to help other cities follow suit.

Here are six things they're doing to shore up trust between law enforcement and minority communities:

1. Confidence ‘Blueprint’

After months of study by the president’s task force on 21st century policing, administration today is releasing its final “blueprint” for building trust between officers and the communities they serve.

“I can tell you, there is widespread understanding by the police that police- community relations must be improved, especially in communities of color,” Ron Davis, a former police chief who now heads the Justice Department’s COPS Office told reporters.

“We are without a doubt sitting at a defining moment in American policing,” Davis said. “We have a unique opportunity to redefine policing in our democracy, to ensure that public safety is more than the absence of crime, that it must also include the presence of justice.”

2. Data, Data, Data.

Statisticians, get ready: the White House has also launched a police data initiative designed to increase transparency and identify problematic trends.

According to officials, 21 jurisdictions have committed to release 101 data sets not previously accessible to the public, like reports on use of force, pedestrian and vehicle stops, and officer-involved shootings. (The administration’s “open data playbook” will set out best practices for other jurisdictions that want to post data publicly.)

“It’s equally important that we educate the community so they set the expectation for their agencies to follow those practices and not just leave it up to the police department by itself,” Davis said yesterday.

Internal data will be shared with analysts who can, in the words of Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz, “identify patterns to prevent problems or problematic behaviors before they lead to a crisis situation.”

3. $163 Million

The Justice Department today is announcing $163 million in hiring grants for positions focused on building community trust.

4. Virtual Body Cam Toolkit

In the wake of the Ferguson protests last year, President Obama pledged $75 million to buy 50,000 body cameras.

Today, the Justice Department is launching a web-based “toolkit” laying out best practices for hardware, software, and data storage, as well as dealing with public information requests, civilian privacy issues, and officers’ rights issues.

5. Bayonets, Be Gone

To curb the “militarization” of local police that upset so many people during the Ferguson protests, President Obama has authorized a series of recommendations to regulate the transfer of equipment from federal agencies to state/local law enforcement.

The plan divides equipment into two main categories: (1) “prohibited” equipment – including bayonets, grenade launchers, weaponized aircraft, tracked armored vehicles and large caliber weapons – that have been deemed inappropriate for local law enforcement and should not be made available local police “under any circumstances,” and (2) “controlled” equipment – including riot gear, explosives, armored vehicles, and specialized firearms – that police departments can acquire only if they comply with certain “vigorous” controls.

“The idea is to make sure that we strike a balance in providing the equipment which is appropriate and useful and important for local law agencies to keep the community safe, while at the same time putting standard in places,” Munoz said.

To obtain controlled equipment under these new recommendations, law enforcement agencies have to gain the consent of a local civilian governing body such as a mayor or city council and provide a “clear and persuasive explanation” for why the department needs the equipment. They’ll also be required to complete additional training in community and constitutional policing and collect data on how the equipment is used – particularly if it is involved in a “significant incident.”

6. National Community Policing Tour

Newly confirmed Attorney General Loretta Lynch is slated to travel to Cincinnati as part of a “national community policing tour.”

Lynch’s aides have indicated that one of her first priorities will be improving police morale and finding common ground between officers and minority communities.

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