Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and around the country have highlighted the importance of strong, collaborative relationships between local police and the communities they protect. As the nation has observed, trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services.
In August, President Obama ordered a review of federal funding and programs that provide equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs). On Monday, the Obama administration released its “Review: Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition,” and the president is also taking a number of steps to strengthen community policing and fortify the trust that must exist between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
White House “Review: Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition”
The White House released its review which provides details on the programs that have expanded over decades across multiple federal agencies that support the acquisition of equipment from the federal government to LEAs. During the course of its review, the White House explored whether existing federal programs:
Provide LEAs with equipment that is appropriate to the needs of their communities, ensure that LEAs have adequate policies in place for the use of the equipment and that personnel are properly trained and certified to employ the equipment they obtain, and encourage LEAs to adopt organizational and operational practices and standards that prevent misuse/abuse of the equipment.
The report finds a lack of consistency in how federal programs are structured, implemented and audited, and informed by conversations with stakeholders, identifies four areas of further focus that could better ensure the appropriate use of federal programs to maximize the safety and security of police officers and the communities they serve: 1) Local Community Engagement, 2) Federal Coordination and Oversight, 3) Training Requirements, and 4) The Community Policing Model.
Consistent with the recommendations in the report, the president instructed his staff to draft an Executive Order directing relevant agencies to work together and with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to develop specific recommendations within 120 days. Some broad examples of what process improvements agencies might implement as a result of further collaborative review include:
Develop a consistent list of controlled property allowable for acquisition by LEAs and ensure that all equipment on the list has a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose.
Require local civilian (non-police) review of and authorization for LEAs to request or acquire controlled equipment.
Mandate that LEAs which participate in federal equipment programs receive necessary training and have policies in place that address appropriate use and employment of controlled equipment, as well as protection of civil rights and civil liberties. Agencies should identify existing training opportunities and help LEAs avail themselves of those opportunities, including those offered by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and the International Association of Law Enforcement Standards and Training.
Require after-action analysis reports for significant incidents involving federally provided or federally-funded equipment.
Harmonize federal programs so that they have consistent and transparent policies.
Develop a database that includes information about controlled equipment purchased or acquired through Federal programs.
Task Force on 21st Century Policing
The president similarly instructed his team to draft an executive order creating a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and announced that the task force will be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who also serves as president of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs. The task force will include, among others, law enforcement representatives and community leaders and will operate in collaboration with Ron Davis, director of DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office. The task force will build on the extensive research currently being conducted by COPS; will examine, among other issues, how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust; and will be directed to prepare a report and recommendations within 90 days of its creation.
Community Policing Initiative
The president also proposes a three-year $263 million investment package that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies (LEAs), add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where DOJ facilitates community and local LEA engagement. As part of this initiative, a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would provide a 50 percent match to States/localities who purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. Overall, the proposed $75 million investment over three years could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras. The initiative as a whole will help the federal government efforts to be a full partner with state and local LEAs in order to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.