Meaningful reform or cop-bashing? Lawmakers hold hearings on police

Reuters/Mike Segar

Reuters/Mike Segar

Heated debate and partisan politics marked the House and Senate committee discussions on how to reform US law enforcement after a White House task force recommended a number of changes following the events in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism focused on the issue of body cameras,
debating whether to make them mandatory and whether to provide
federal funding for their use. Senators and their witnesses also
debated the technicalities of body camera use, the cost of video
storage, privacy issues regarding requests for public
information, and the role of government in imposing policing

Having the federal government support the purchase of body
cameras should not be considered federalizing local policing,
Senator Tim Scott (R- South Carolina) said. “Rather, it is an
attempt to keep law enforcement officers and our communities

“Everyone — including the officer and the person interacting
with the officer — tends to behave better when they know they are
being filmed,”
testified Jarrod Bruder of the South Carolina
Sheriffs’ Association.

Over at the House Judiciary Committee hearing, the discussion was on the more
general issue of policing strategy and the recommendations made
by President Barack Obama’s task force. Committee chairman Robert
Goodlatte (R-Virginia) spoke about the need to find a better way
for police to interact with citizens, “both in everyday
situations, and when more difficult circumstances arise.”

“I want to assure all of you that the purpose of this hearing
– and the ongoing efforts following this hearing – is to make
sure we’re doing everything possible to address the problems that
have arisen in recent months to make sure communities are safer,
police officers are safer and our citizens’ rights are
Goodlatte said at the hearing. “We will not
rest until we make progress.”

READ MORE: Conflict of interest? Cops’ financial
connection to camera company raises eyebrows

One of the task force members, Susan Lee Rahr, said she would
love to see Congress provide funding for improved police training
and that several existing training programs could “literally
transform the profession of policing in this country.”
of the programs Rahr mentioned by name was Blue Courage, which
has already been embraced by the New York City Police Department.

Another topic of discussion was the fact that many officers do
not live in the communities they patrol, but are literally
outsiders called in to enforce the law.

“Bashing the police is the low-hanging fruit,” countered
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Citing his 27 years of
experience in law enforcement, Clarke said that police use of
force ought to be scrutinized, but locally, not by the media or
“elected officials who can’t resist the opportunity to
exploit the emotions of an uninformed or misinformed public
simply for political gain.”

Police behavior should be examined in terms of “factual data
and circumstances that led to the police action, and not from an
emotional foundation of false narratives or catchy slogans,”

Clarke argued, adding that “the conversation should be about
transforming black underclass subculture behavior.”

“The discussion must start with addressing the behavior of
people who have no respect for authority, who fight with and try
to disarm the police, who flee the police, and who engage in
other flawed lifestyle choices,”
said Clarke, who is
African-American. “Black-on-black crime is the elephant in
the room that few want to talk about.”

READ MORE: No tanks! US police to lose some military
equipment, but not all

A number of
African-American lawmakers took offense at Clarke’s comments,
including Karen Bass (D-California), Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York)
and Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana).

The need for more community-oriented policing was one of the
recommendations made by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st
Century Policing, which was published on Monday. A separate
report on equipment used by law enforcement, released Monday as well, said the police
should not be allowed access to weapons and uniforms whose
“appearance may undermine community trust when used in
support of civilian law enforcement activities.”

The White House announced it would follow the Task Force’s
recommendations and “prohibit some equipment made for the
battlefield that is not appropriate for local police
At the same time, it said it will “ensure
that departments have what they need, but also that they have the
training to use it.”

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