WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday that the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York show that law enforcement needs to change practices to build trust in minority communities, with a White House task force recommending independent outside investigations when police use deadly force.
The president said the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City exposed “deep rooted frustration in many communities of color around the need for fair and just law enforcement.” He said a policing task force that he appointed found it’s important for police and the communities they cover to improve cooperation.
“The moment is now for us to make these changes,” Obama said from the White House during a meeting with members of the task force, who worked for three months to develop the recommendations. “We have a great opportunity coming out of some great conflict and tragedy to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel — rather than being embattled — feel fully supported. We need to seize that opportunity.”
Obama said the task force found great interest in developing best practices for police training to reduce bias and help officers deal with stressful situations. He recognized a particularly controversial recommendation would be the need for independent investigations in fatal police shootings.
“The importance of making sure that there’s a sense of accountability when in fact law enforcement is involved in a deadly shooting is something that I think communities across the board are going to be considering,” Obama said.
The task force echoed calls from officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey for more complete record-keeping about the numbers of police-involved shootings across the country. Such data is currently reported by local law enforcement on a voluntary basis, and there is no central or reliable repository for those statistics.
“There’s no reason for us not to have this data available,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, a co-chair, who said he was surprised to learn that there were no reliable records kept. “Now that we know that this does not exist, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to develop that information.”
The task force held seven public hearings that included testimony from more than 100 people. The panel also met with leaders of groups advocating for the rights of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, veterans, gays, the disabled and others.
Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and co-chair of the task force, told reporters the type of community-police relations envisioned by the report does not happen quickly.
“It takes time, it takes relationship-building and it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.