President Barack Obama was on the road yesterday, as he traveled to Camden, New Jersey. Obama visited with local law enforcement officials, and met with young people in the Camden community, with the stated goal of improving relations with police and the community, according to ABC News. The day in Camden started with a tour of the Real-Time Tactical Operational Intelligence Center at the Camden County Police Department Headquarters. He later delivered remarks at the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, reported the New York Times.
The White House said that Camden is a rare bright spot in what is an otherwise troubled relationship between the police and black communities. President Obama said of the Camden Police Department, “The police department was overhauled to implement a new model of community policing. They doubled the size of the force — while keeping it unionized. They cut desk jobs in favor of getting more officers out into the streets. Not just to walk the beat, but to actually get to know the residents — to set up basketball games, to volunteer in schools, to participate in reading programs, to get to know the small businesses in the area.”
Much of the focus of the Comunity Policing strategy is the “building trust.” The President heard directly about these efforts being made by the Camden County Police Department. Camden was recently designated as a “Promise Zone,” which leverages federal grants to increase economic opportunity, reduce crime and improve public health, among other priorities identified by the community. It is also a My Brother’s Keeper community challenge partner – is making strides, and the Obama administration wants to help other cities follow suit, said ABC News.
The President discussed how these kinds of partnerships and community investments are a crucial part of creating ladders of opportunity for all Americans.
The President launched the Police Data Initiative with police chiefs and technology officers from 16 jurisdictions across the country to work alongside community organizations and police associations to leverage open data that will identify problems early, increase internal accountability, and decrease inappropriate uses of force, reported the White House.
The Obama administration also announced Monday it will ban the what was once routine federal transfers of certain types of military-style gear to local law enforcement and police departments. Some of the banned items are the following: tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, ammunition of .50-caliber or higher and some types of camouflage uniforms. Other types of equipment include certain tactical vehicles, explosives and riot equipment. These will be transferred only if local police provide additional certification and assurances that the gear will be used responsibly, reported the Washington Post.
President Obama said of the use of military-style gear in his remarks, “We’re also releasing new policies on the military-style equipment that the federal government has in the past provided to state and local law enforcement agencies. We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.”
Obama added, “It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message. So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.”
Last December, President Barack Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing with a mission to identify best practices and make recommendations on how such practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. The Task Force was chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and George Mason University Professor Laurie Robinson and included, among others, law enforcement representatives, community leaders, academics, and youth leaders.
The President also highlighted how communities are adopting the recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing and new tools all cities can utilize to build and maintain the all-important trust between the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day, and the communities they have sworn to serve and protect. In a release from the White House, these tools include the following:
• A Blueprint for Improved Community Policing: The final Task Force Report provides a blue print for cities and towns to utilize as they develop policing strategies that work best for building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve while enhancing public safety.
• The White House Police Data Initiative: Leading jurisdictions have joined technologists, community organizations and police associations to commit to use data and technology in ways that build community trust and reduce unnecessary uses of force.
• Community Policing Grants: The Department of Justice (DOJ) will begin taking applications for grants designed to advance the practice of community policing in law enforcement agencies through hiring, training and technical assistance, the development of innovative community policing strategies, applied research, guidebooks, and best practices that are national in scope.
• A Body-Worn Camera Tool Kit: Earlier this month, the DOJ announced a new pilot grant program that will help local law enforcement agencies develop, implement, and evaluate body-worn camera programs, and today, DOJ is releasing an online clearinghouse of resources designed to help law enforcement professionals and the communities they serve plan and implement body-worn camera (BWC) programs.
• Partnerships with National Law Enforcement Focused Organizations to Implement Recommendations: With support from the Department of Justice, nine law enforcement-focused organizations will develop national-level, industry-wide projects for several of the pillars outlined in the Task Force Report.
• Equipment Working Group Final Report: A federal interagency working group—led by the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security – has now completed an extensive review of federal programs that support the acquisition of equipment by state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. On the basis of that review, the working group developed a series of concrete steps to enhance accountability, increase transparency, and better serve the needs of law enforcement and local communities.
Over several months, the Task Force held public hearings across the country; took testimony from over 100 witnesses; reviewed hundreds of written submissions and thoughtfully came to consensus on 59 concrete recommendations. The Task Force presented their interim report, including recommendations regarding policies, training, transparency, accountability, technology and officer safety and wellness, to the President in March, and today the final report is available HERE.