The Task Force on 21st Century Policing

DC Public Safety Radio

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See the radio program at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2015/03/presidents-task-force-on-21st-century-policing-laurie-robinson/

Leonard: From the nation’s capital, this DC Public Safety. I am your host Leonard Sipes. The title of today’s program, ladies and gentlemen, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Our guest, back at our microphones, Laurie Robinson. Laurie, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Laurie: Hello, Leonard, and happy to be here.

Leonard: I am going to read an introduction about Laurie. Laurie is a George Mason University professor. She was named Co-Chair to the President’s Policing Task Force or The Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The new task force is part of the White House’s response to the ongoing turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities. Robinson is Co-Chair of the task force with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. Charles is a former Chief of Police here in Washington DC.

The White House said that the goals were to include new ways to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. The task force was asked to prepare a report within 90 days, which has been done. Robinson was twice appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs first by President Bill Clinton and then by President Obama. She is the longest-serving agency heads in its 45-year history of.

Laurie, I want to start off the topics. Do you have one sentence that you bring to mind as to the 80-page report, because it’s very comprehensive and involves a lot of implications for the criminal justice system?

Laurie: Yes, Len, I would say, I would sum it up as follows that every citizen and every community should be treated by the police respectfully and fairly, and then at the same time we need to recognize that law enforcement officers have very tough and very risky jobs. I think together that really sums up what we found and recommended in this report.

Leonard: It’s been called the most challenging job in America, American policing. I can’t imagine … I was a police officer for six years. I can’t imagine a tougher job, especially today.

Laurie: Right. We heard from over 120 witnesses, and got many submissions of testimony beyond that, and we heard both from community members and from a number of people in law enforcement and other citizens and professionals beyond that, and that really supports what you’re saying.

Leonard: It is extraordinarily tough. I am going to summarize the 80 pages. This is my summation, not yours. Here is what I got out of the report. Building trust between law enforcement agencies and officers and communities, real emphasis on data collection, a discussion of alternatives to arrest, improving police training, improving police communications, especially as it pertains to social media, but I think it goes far beyond that, and the best use of technology. Did I do a good job summarizing the report?

Laurie: Well, you’ve certainly kind of boiled it down to a very few sentences. Let me emphasize some of those things and kind of expand a little bit beyond that. Certainly, it does talk about the need to build community trust. We talked about, as I mentioned before, fair, impartial, and respectful policing. We talk about the notion of procedural justice as an important issue of ensuring that people are fairly and impartially treated, and the notion of law enforcement adopting, what we call, the guardian mindset rather than a warrior mindset, as a notion of protecting the community.

In the area of better data that’s something that we thought was really important, and that there is an important federal role here as well. So better data, for example, on the use of force, on officer involved shootings, on deaths in custody, on diversity of departments. Now, the Bureau of Justice statistics has gathered data on kind of the makeup of departments over the years, but it’s very incomplete.

Part of that reason, Len, is that many of the departments in this country, as you know, are very small. About half of the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in this country have fewer than 10 sworn officers. Obviously, those small departments don’t have a data collection department within them, and it’s hard for them to regularly collect data and submit it to the federal government. But we think there has to be a better effort made to collect data.

In the data arena, we think it’s very important as well for local departments to survey their communities annually to get a feel for how the community feels about the department. Now, turning to some other areas, training you mentioned.

Leonard: Yes.

Laurie: We do feel that training is a very, very important area, both for new recruits and also for existing officers. There are number of areas where we suggest that training is particularly important. One area for example is on handling the mentally ill.

Leonard: Which is a little bit tough to do.

Laurie: Very tough. And yet, there’s been training developed, what’s called Crisis Intervention Training, CIT, and a number of departments have already instituted that kind of training. But oftentimes it’s for a specialized unit and we recommend that every officer receive this kind of training because you never know when you’re going to need that, when you are going to encounter someone who may have those kind of mental difficulties.

A number of the incidents that have occurred around the country that have tragically escalated into an event with a shooting or some kind of injury, have involved individuals with mental illness. Having officers better equipped with information about how to de-escalate those events in a circumstance where nobody is in danger of immediate injury or bystanders, would be very valuable.

Leonard: It’s interesting that crime is going down over the course of the last 20, 22 years, but the incidents of amount of contact with people who have mental health history seems to be increasing not decreasing. Here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, those people diagnosed as having mental health issues and our response to it has certainly grown over the course of years. It just seems to be interesting how crime has had almost a continual decline over the last 22, 23 years, there have been … it’s every once in a while in terms of going back up, but how we are encountering more people with mental health problems?

Laurie: Right. I think we can attribute some of that to the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill over the last decade. Of course, we know that the criminal justice system has been the recipient of those individuals in many cases. Many of the mentally ill, of course, are homeless and encounter police and then the jail system and so on.

We also think the training on procedural justice, as we talked about a minute ago, is important, and also more generally on de-escalation of incidents. But one of the things, Len, that’s very interesting is that there is not much research available, we learned, on what kind of training works best. We urge that the federal government’s National Institute of Justice or elsewhere, invest more money in research to learn what kind of training for police is most effective, whether it’s scenario-based training or otherwise.

We’ve also recommended that the federal government develop and support some kind of postgraduate Institute of Policing for senior executives to educate upcoming police leaders from across the country as we are heading into the 21st century. That’s perhaps is somewhat like what Great Britain has.

They have a National College of Policing for upcoming police leaders, and something like that could be very helpful in kind of training the next generation of leaders in this country.

Leonard: But as you said 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, most of them small, it becomes an almost impossible task to try to set up some sort of comprehensive standards when you’ve got 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies, as you mentioned before, we hit the record button. We’re not a European country, we’re not a unified system. It’s just almost impossible to get the word down to these 18,000 separate law enforcement agencies.

We do have police in correctional training commissions in every state, and I would imagine it’s their responsibility. But this is almost unbelievably difficult task that we’re talking about.

Laurie: I think that one of the great allies in this will be the professional associations, looking to groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Sheriffs, potentially the police unions, and also the Major City Chiefs, the Major County Sheriffs, and Police Executive Research Forum, PERF and others. I know the International Association of Chiefs of Police has held a seminar, or a webinar rather, recently to talk to their members about the White House report.

PERF has sent a copy of this to all of its members, I believe. Major City Chiefs has as well. Groups like IACP and the others are very tied to their member organizations, their member association of membership. Having peers working with peers, I think to educate them about recommendations in the report to have them involved in training of their members is one key or route to helping change the curve.

Leonard: I am going to read a quick passage from the beginning of the report. This is an incomplete passage. It became very clear that it’s time for a comprehensive and multifaceted examination of all interrelated parts of the criminal justice system. Within your report, you’re just not talking necessarily about law enforcement. You’re talking about the entire criminal justice system, because if memory serves me correctly, within the Ferguson situation a lot of the complaints were not just about law enforcement, but they were about courts, they were about fines, they were talking about the criminal justice system, in general.

Laurie: One of the things that did become clear, Len, during the course of our hearings, was that while the police are the faith of the criminal justice system to most citizens, that obviously the police are not responsible for, let’s say, the drug laws, or the length of prison sentences, and yet many citizens blame the police for things that they’re unhappy about with regard to the criminal justice system.

Oftentimes, I think the police may get unfairly blamed for things that, of course, they are not responsible for.

Leonard: Go ahead, please.

Laurie: The first recommendation, the very first recommendation in our report is that the President appoint a broader task force to look at the entire criminal justice system and look at the whole set of issues involved with crime and criminal justice, not just the system itself, but kind of harms and crimes, and how these broader issues should and can be addressed in our country.

Leonard: Recommendation number one, National Crime and Criminal Justice Task Force making recommendations on comprehensive criminal justice reforms. You see your 90-day report and your hearings throughout the country on 21st century policing and the problems that we’ve been having within communities, you see this as the springboard for a much larger discussion on the entire criminal justice system.

Laurie: Right. There is right now, as you know, a great deal of interest in criminal justice reform, on both sides of the aisle, if you will, both conservatives and liberals in Congress is an example and in state legislatures right now interested on, again both Republicans and Democrats, in looking at issues like sentencing reform, looking at drug issues, looking at mandatory minimum sentences anew. It’s a prime time to re-examine, as a society, how we’re approaching these issues, and it’s not a one-sided interest. It’s from many different viewpoints.

We thought it’s not that our recommendations should be ignored until that’s done because that probably would take a year and a half or so. But it’s definitely something that needs attention.

Leonard: We’ve had two previously, during my lifetime, President’s task force on crime and justice back in the 1960s, which propelled me into the criminal justice system by the way, and then we had another one. We don’t have these large task forces that often. It seems that now is a time to look at fundamental change within the criminal justice system once again. I wanted to make that point that these task forces that you’re recommending really don’t come along all that often.

Every once in a while we need to rethink what we’re doing, have a national conversation and rethink what we’re doing and how we’re doing. That said, what you’re basically saying is now is the time for another conversation.

Laurie: That’s absolutely correct. The 1960s Lyndon Johnson Crime Commission, which by the way I teach to my students about that at George Mason University now, had remarkable impact on the field, on the criminal justice field, as you know. It helped to professionalize police; it helped to build a criminal justice education in the whole area of criminology. It instituted the 911 system, which did not exist before. It led to the creation of regional crime labs, many, many things in our area.

Leonard: I went to college, after I was a police office based upon those grants.

Laurie: Absolute, the LEEP grants. It led to the creation of the Law Enforcement Assistance administration, as you know, LEAA, and the successor agency, OJP, which I headed. It is time for another commission or task force of that kind, and so as I said that was our first recommendation in the report.

Leonard: We’re more than halfway through the program. Laurie Robinson is back at our microphone. She is a George Mason professor, University professor. She was named Co-Chair to the President’s Policing Task Force of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing with Charles Ramsey, the Philadelphia Chief of Police. I’m delighted to have Laurie back as one of the true representatives at the national level for the criminal justice system again.

She was the longest-serving head of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice in its history. Every time Laurie goes off to do something else like teach, we in Washington fall right back into the middle of a firestorm. Al right, let me get around [inaudible 00:17:11] conversations that I’ve been having with law enforcement officers.

There is a sense of confusion on the part of folks in law enforcement, who said for decades now we’ve been browbeaten with the New York City miracle, with the broken windows philosophy, with aggressive policing, because when I was a younger police officer, we were taught not to make all these arrests. We were taught only to bring in really good cases to courts, really good, either traffic stops, or really good criminal arrest, and be available for the calls as they came in, and to interact with the community.

Suddenly, over the point of decades, because crime plummeted in New York City through very aggressive policing and then that was exported to the rest of the country. I must’ve read hundreds of articles about aggressive policing, aggressive traffic stops, aggressive stops of people in the community as long as you have a legal right to stop that individual.

Now the cops are basically saying, hey, Leonard, we’re little confused. We’ve been schooled for decades about aggressive policing, and now maybe we’re supposed to draw back. Can you help them figure this out?

Laurie: Well, I think that what we’re seeing is that aggressive crime-fighting strategies need to be balanced with an understanding of what I said toward the beginning of the program about a guardian mindset. That is not all about being a warrior mindset, but a guardian mindset. By the way, one of the recommendations we have is that, any research that’s being done henceforth to evaluate crime-fighting strategies needs to not only look at the impact on reduction of crime, but needs to look at the collateral damage that has or can arise from those kind of aggressive crime-fighting strategies, collateral damage on community trust.

We’ve never looked at those kinds of things at least very rigorously. When we look at, oh, we’ve dropped crime in XYZ bill by X percent, but without looking at whether it’s eroded community trust. To those who are raising the question, do we need to reconsider, I’d say yes, we do need to reconsider. Because at the end of the day, when you’ve eroded community trust, you actually are eroding your ability to fight crime, because you need the community on board in order to reduce crime over time.

You and I talked before the show about difficulties in recruiting for police departments, and one thing we heard during our hearings was the difficulty some departments are encountering in recruiting among African-American populations in some cities, several of our witnesses said, well, you know it is hard to recruit among young men, young African-American men, in some of those neighborhoods, and what a surprise, she said, ironically, this one witness, when they are used to being treated not very kindly by lot of the police who are patrolling in those neighborhoods. It kind of goes hand in hand that you have to build respectful relationship and then you have people more on board, right.

Leonard: Absolutely, it’s crucial I think that we have to have the communities on board. The communities need to be partners with law enforcement, need to be partners with parole and probation, need to be partners with corrections. The community has to be on board or we’re never going to completely solve the crime problem that we have in the country.

The fact that we have a problem within our communities we need to examine that. I think it’s obvious from your report and I think we need to do a much better job of communicating and carrying out the will of the communities. The cops are, again, they are confused by all of this because they’re saying, Leonard, if you go to a community meeting, oftentimes you hear community members ask for aggressive policing in terms of a person who is bothering them, a person who’s keeping them up at night, kids hanging out in the street corner.

Again, they are saying, well, we do listen to the community, but when we do this, it becomes a problem. We have to have a way of figuring out. The communities got to communicate with the law enforcement. You in your report stressed that there are community responsibilities as well.

Laurie: Absolutely, yes. The community needs to, for example, work with law enforcement, serve on those community advisory boards of reach out and work with. We talk about the involvement of law enforcement in schools, but there also has to be community involvement in those schools, as an example.

Leonard: One person mentioned that there should be community leaders riding in police cars. There should be members of the clergy out there riding with police officers, community leaders riding with police officers, so they can see firsthand exactly what they have to experience. There’s a constant communication between the community and the individual law enforcement officers.

I think that in your report talking about the focus on community responsibility towards the problem, I think, is bringing a lot of people along, because on one side of the continuum there’s a lot of police officers who feel that they’re being unfairly maligned, and on the other side, they’re saying, but it’s just as much the community’s responsibility as it is our responsibility.

Laurie: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.

Leonard: Where do we go to from here in terms of bringing both parties together and making sure that law enforcement officers have the training, they have the equipment, they have the data, they have the level of sensitivity, they have alternatives to arrest that they are doing the proper job of communicating. This is going to involve a lot of money. It’s going to involve a lot of training, and it’s going to involve a lot of sensitivity.

We’re already taking the most difficult, and in some cases dangerous job in the United States and we’re making it even more complex. Police officers today need to go beyond the stereotypical enforcer to the ladies and gentlemen representing the community. That’s going to take almost a new philosophy and new training and a new kind of police officer.

Laurie: Well, one thing I want to emphasize is that a whole chapter in our report addresses officers safety and wellness. One of our key points was that procedural justice, that I talked about earlier, have to be applied internally within departments as well. There has to be procedural justice in disciplines proceedings for officers. There is a lot of stress for officers within their own departments and how they feel. Whether they feel they are being fairly treated.

Sometimes that stress can get taken outside the department in the way they might deal with citizens. They have to feel that they are being fairly treated. Generally, as we’ve been spoken about, these are very high stress jobs for them. Frequently, there are higher than normal levels of divorce, of alcohol use and sadly of suicide among officer ranks. So departments need to make officers’ safety and wellness a priority.

We recommend that the Justice Department continue to make officers’ safety and wellness a top priority for the Justice Department as well. By the way, sadly my Co-Chair Chuck Ramsey very recently lost an officer within his ranks as well. This is something that it can have a devastating impact on the departments. We recommended that every police officer in the United States have a bulletproof vest and that there be a mandatory wear policy for officers and also mandatory seatbelt wear policy.

Many of the deaths of police officers in this country come from auto accidents, not from a bullet. Because officers are so committed, they are racing to the scene of a crime and they don’t put on their seat belts. They have a lot of equipment on, you probably know this. It’s kind of cumbersome to put on the seat belt on.

Leonard: In the final analysis we all want the same thing. Community wants what police officers want, which is community safety. Everybody wants fair and respectful treatment, everybody wants everybody else to support them in a larger goal of a peaceful crime free community. In the final analysis, we all, whether we’re part of the criminal justice system, or part of the community, we all want this conversation.

I guess, there are a lot of police officers who are simply saying, folks make up your mind, what is it that you want us to do, what is it that you want us to be, and once we’ve agreed to that then let’s accomplish it.

Laurie: That’s exactly right. But I will tell you, one of the strong themes that I heard throughout these two months that we worked on this report, Americans are problem solvers. They are going to come together and work on this. I am an optimist and I think we are on the road to improvement in this area.

Leonard: Well, that’s the interesting thing because if we do, we take that first recommendation, the National Crime and Justice Task Force to make recommendations on Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform, we could, indeed, enter a new era in terms of not just how we conduct law enforcement, but how we conduct ourselves in the criminal justice system to make sure that everybody sees a sense of fairness in terms of how the criminal justice system is applied, and how the laws are applied, and would examine laws themselves as to whether or not they should be on the books, whether or not they need to be enforced or enforce as rigorously as they are.

Laurie: That’s correct and that gives me hope too that we’re heading toward a fairer and more respectful criminal justice system overall.

Leonard: Again in 45 years of being in the criminal justice system, and we’ll have just 30 seconds to respond to this before we wrap up. 45 years in the criminal justice system, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to sit down and have a conversation that’s probably overdue, probably needed. I think the average police officer desperately wants to serve the community and the average police officer desperately wants the community to see them as a participant in their best interest and not an occupying force. I think you’d agree with that.

Laurie: I’m a huge fan of law enforcement and I believe that those are their goals, and that we can achieve that kind of justice together.

Leonard: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had at our microphones, back at her microphones Laurie Robinson. She is a George University, a George Mason University professor who was in-charge of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, a longest-serving agency head in their 45-year history. She was appointed to the Task Force on 21st Century Policing by President Obama.

She served with again Charles Ramsey, Chief of Police in Philadelphia. Laurie, I commend both you and Charles Ramsey for a report that leads us into a much better direction ladies and gentlemen. This is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have themselves a very pleasant day.

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