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Policing under review: discord among Americans on the nature of policing has law enforcement officials, community leaders and lawmakers searching for solutions.

With a booming voice befitting his life's work as a pastor, the late South Carolina Senator Clementa Pinckney (D) invoked the biblical story of doubting Thomas during a speech last spring in support of police body cameras. The senator reminded his colleagues that Thomas had to see and feel Jesus' wounds for himself before he would believe he had risen from the dead.

Pinckney was moved to speak after Walter Scott--an unarmed black man--was unjustly shot and killed by police. A bystander captured the encounter on his cellphone, removing any doubt about how Scott had died. Pinckney's point was that without the hard evidence a video can provide, the debate surrounding Scott's death would have been mired in people's entrenched points of view and preconceived ideas based on their life experiences and personal biases.

For example, a dedicated officer may not believe a colleague with years of honorable service would ever be capable of losing control and shooting an unarmed person. Likewise, a young black man who has experienced unjust interactions with police, may have no problem believing that every officer is capable of taking an unprovoked and deadly action even in nonviolent situations.

These divergent perspectives illustrate how challenging it can be for Americans to find common ground on policing issues. The discord has grown in the last year as officer-involved deaths have sparked protests from Baltimore to Oakland, raising many questions that beg for answers.

In search of solutions, state, federal and local lawmakers are gathering information, listening to community leaders and reviewing police practices as they consider reforms. Through their nationwide efforts, two common goals have emerged: first, to increase transparency, trust and accountability in law enforcement; and second, to ensure that police practices are fair both to officers and to the public.

Opening Up Communication

In Maryland, Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh (D) is at the forefront of her state's efforts to address concerns over policing. She was there when protests and some riots erupted in the poorest parts of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in police custody.

"Police came in and had a quieting effect," she says, "but so did community leaders who took to the streets to keep the calm." The protests, rooted in discontent over Gray's death, resonated with Pugh. "By no means do we condone violence, but what happened does shine a light on the need for productive ways to share frustration and for improved economic development opportunities in long-neglected areas of Baltimore."

Pugh is co-chair of a legislative work group that is trying to determine why there's so much distrust of police officers in some communities. "I know that the police officers I come in personal contact with are there because they want to protect and serve, so where does that breakdown occur?" Pugh believes much can be discovered by listening. "Our last task force meeting was an opportunity for the community to speak out. We listened for four hours to concerns from those who have lost children in police confrontations, from community groups, advocates and community members in general."

As Pew's group convened in May, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would open an investigation into possible constitutional violations by Baltimore police officers, focusing on their use of force, any patterns or practices of discriminatory policing, and the department's record of stops, searches and arrests.

A National Concern

The Department of Justice has conducted many similar investigations in recent years, including in Cleveland, Seattle and Ferguson, Missouri, following concerns of police misconduct.

The investigations in some cases have uncovered troublesome practices the Justice Department has addressed by requiring specific reforms.

The department's investigation of Cleveland police in 2014, for example, identified a pattern of excessive use of force along with widespread deficiencies in accountability, training, equipment, policies and community engagement. The investigation drew the attention of state leaders to concerns over law enforcement.

"This is the most serious issue I've been a part of in my entire life," says Ohio Senator Cliff Hite (R), who was a member of the state's Task Force on Community-Police Relations. "It's bigger than I ever thought. Until we went around the state, I didn't realize the differences were so stark. ... It's going to take time to heal some of these wounds."

Hite also serves on the Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, which has been charged with developing first-in-the-nation minimum standards for the proper use of force, including deadly force. "What we need to do as elected officials is to develop parameters for community-police relationships and provide guidance for those relationships to function," he says.

On the West Coast, the experience of the Seattle Police Department is showing that interventions into police practices can be successful in making desired changes over time. In 2012, the Justice Department reached an agreement with the city's police to address patterns of excessive use of force and discriminatory street stops.

According to the most recent report issued by the court-imposed independent monitor, positive changes have resulted from training police officers on bias, crisis intervention and the use of force; from improved use of data; and from new policies and strong leadership from the police chief. The monitor's next evaluation will focus on the real-world impact of Seattle's reforms.

Understanding Policing

The job of a police officer is complex, dangerous and challenging. Officers perform increasingly sophisticated functions that are critical to public safety. They never know what to expect on the job, evidenced by the diverse training required by various state laws--in crisis intervention, distinguishing human trafficking from prostitution, handling those with mental illness, knowing when to use force, reducing bias and responding to domestic violence.

Although the vast majority of the annual 62.9 million police-public interactions are completed without incident, according to federal agencies, almost 50,000 officers are assaulted every year.

"The average person does not understand what goes into being a police officer," says Illinois Representative John Anthony (R), a former law enforcement officer and deputy sheriff who worked on successful police reform legislation this year. "I wish every legislator would go on a police ride-along to see what can happen. On my last ride with the Chicago Police Department we went to multiple shots-fired calls and domestic abuse situations, and you realize there is no such thing as a routine stop or police interaction. Any moment can be dangerous."

Anthony says that after much debate, Illinois lawmakers reached a compromise that left all sides feeling satisfied. Under the new law:

* State agencies will develop procedures for investigating police involved deaths.

* The Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board will keep demographic and police-action statistics on pedestrian stops.

* The Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board will set guidelines for the use of body-worn cameras.

* The public will be allowed to film police activity.

"I want to make sure officers are protected, and I want to make sure the public is protected," says Anthony. "I think with our bipartisan effort, we were able to do that."

In Baltimore, Pugh recognizes the challenge officers face when patrolling distressed areas and regularly confronting negative activity. Steps should be taken "to give officers what they need to do their jobs well," she says. "That doesn't just mean equipment. It can mean psychological evaluations and rotations away from their exposure to crime."

Bipartisan Solutions

In Colorado, where party control is split between chambers, Republican Senators John Cooke and Ellen Roberts and Democratic Representatives Angela Williams and Daniel Kagan succeeded in passing a bipartisan package of legislation. The co-sponsors hope the laws, known as the "Rebuilding Trust Package," will bolster police transparency and accountability. The changes include adding reporting requirements and investigation procedures for police shootings, setting standards for and funding the use of body-worn cameras, and adding more officer training on racial bias and the use of force.

"We wanted to address the perception that some people were not getting fair and just treatment by police," Kagan says, "especially in less affluent communities and communities of color."

Williams, who initiated the legislature's effort, says "after looking at the brutality concerns across the county and in Colorado, as a parent especially, I couldn't sit back and watch it happen again. I wanted to use my voice to help protect black youth and rebuild relationships between communities and their officers."

While developing their legislation, the co-sponsors made clear they believe the vast majority of officers are dedicated public servants who share a strong mutual respect for the public. "It was a priority for us, to ensure that the reforms were constructive and not combative with our police," says Cooke, a former sheriff with 35 years of law enforcement experience. But he knew concerns over policing needed to be addressed, because "if law enforcement does not have the public's trust, they can't be effective at doing their jobs."

The Work Continues

Back in April, Senator Pinckney concluded his remarks to his South Carolina colleagues by driving home the importance of addressing America's discord over policing. "As a legislature, we have a great opportunity to make sure that our proud and great law enforcement officers, and every citizen we represent, are able to at least know that they will be seen and heard, and that their rights will be protected."

Legislative efforts this year that cross party lines and include various stakeholders can guide efforts underway in other states. But improving relations between police and local communities has no simple solution.

"We've got a lot of work to do," says Hite, of Ohio, "and it's not going to get done overnight."

Senator Clementa Pinckney

Two months after South Carolina Senator Clementa Pinckney gave a moving speech in support of equipping police with body cameras, he and eight fellow worshipers were killed by a young white man at the church where Pinckney served as head pastor. Pinckney's speech on body cams helped move the legislation in South Carolina, which became the first state to require their use.

Dangerous Duty

In 2014, 48,315 police officers were assaulted, and 96 were killed in the line of duty, according to the FBI. Of the officers killed, 45 died accidentally. The other 51 died responding to the situations listed below.

                  Drug-related matter   1
Handling people with mental illnesses   3
                    Arrest situations   3
                  Tactical situations   4
               Investigative activity   5
     Investigation suspicious persons   6
                    Ambush situations   8
               Traffic pursuits/stops   10
                    Disturbance calls   11

Source: FBI data from 2014.

The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing

The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, created at the end of 2014, released its final recommendations in May. They include numerous action-item suggestions built upon the six "pillars" of community policing summarized below.

Trust and Legitimacy. Law enforcement agencies should embrace a guardian--rather than a warrior--mindset, establish a culture of transparency and accountability, and create a diverse workforce.

Policy and Oversight. Police policies must reflect community values; contain clear and comprehensive rules on the use of force and equipment, and include performance measures.

Technology and Social Media. Law enforcement agencies should ensure that new technology is effective, does not infringe on personal rights or privacy, be based on model policies and best practices, and increases community trust.

Community Policing and Crime Reduction. Law enforcement agencies should work with the community to identify problems and find solutions that produce meaningful results, and include youth in community decision making, research and problem solving.

Training and Education. Instructional programs should engage community members with special expertise, provide leadership training to all personnel, be effective and of high quality, and seek to build partnerships with local and national training facilities.

Officer Wellness and Safety. Law enforcement agencies should promote wellness at every level; adopt policies that help prevent injuries, such as wearing seat belts and bullet-proof vests; and increase data collection on officer deaths, injuries and "near misses."

Who Are They?

809 People shot and killed by police this year, as of Oct. 28.

777 Male

381 White

199 Black

260 Under age 29

132 Hispanic

638 Had a deadly weapon

75 Unarmed

28 Unarmed and black

Source: The Washington Post database of civilians shot and killed by an on-duty police officer, as of Oct 28. 2015.

How much confidence do you have in
police officers in your community...

Just Some/Very Little           A Great Deal/Fair Amount

... to do a good job of enforcing the law?
Hispanic                 37%    63%
Black                    47%    52%
White                    16%    83%

... to not use excessive force on suspects?
Hispanic                 54%    45%
Black                    59%    36%
White                    24%    74%

... to treat Hispanics and Whites equally?
                         51%    46%
Black                    55%    41%
White                    25%    72%

... to treat Blacks and Whites equally?
Hispanic                 48%    47%
Black                    62%    36%
White                    27%    72%

Note: Survey conducted August 20-24, 2014. Voluntary responses of
"None" and "Don't know-Refused" not shown. Blacks and Whites include
only non-Hispanics. Hispanics are of any race.

Sources: Jens Manuel Krogstad, "Latino Confidence in Local Police
Lower than Among Whites," Pew Research Center, August 28, 2014.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Law Enforcement
Author:Williams, Rich
Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:1U5MD
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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