- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) - A presidential task force charged with examining ways to improve police-community relations heard testimony on Friday from researchers, law enforcement representatives and others with suggestions for strengthening policies and oversight of police use of force.

The issue led off two days of sessions by the Task Force on 21st Century Policing formed in December amid a continuing outcry over police use of force in minority communities after the killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities, including Cleveland and the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek in Ohio. The group will prepare a report to President Barack Obama that’s due in March.

Panel topics at the sessions continuing through Saturday at the University of Cincinnati also include police interactions with demonstrators, diversity, technology, police body cameras, and using social media.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told task force members that more attention needs to be paid to preventing use of force. He says a comprehensive approach to clarifying policies and improving areas such as training in tactics and de-escalation skills is needed.

“Too many departments have training programs that are fragmented, with separate courses on use of force, encounters with mentally ill persons and so forth,” Wexler said. “We need to re-engineer how police training is conducted so that it integrates all aspects of police work in ways that mirror what actually happens.”

Sim Gill, district attorney for Salt Lake County in Utah, suggested more “robust” Department of Justice oversight, going beyond the current complaint-driven approach. He said preventive efforts including random, independent audits of police agencies could help prompt “a cultural shift, with recognition that best practices need to be routine.”

Gill supports independent investigations and reviews of use of force situations to avoid “contributing to a culture of suspicion” among community members or police.

But Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, stressed that determining reasonable use of force must focus on interpretations by officers at the scene from the information they had at the time rather than on “hindsight.”

McDonald said he heard a lot Friday about the need for more training and partnering officers to help keep situations from escalating.

“But no one talks about how to pay for it,” he said, noting that departments in Ohio and elsewhere have had to downsize due to budget constraints. McDonald also said that a comprehensive look at policies shouldn’t mean trying to make a “one-size fits all” policy for all departments.

Charles Ramsey, Philadelphia’s police commissioner who also served with the Washington D.C. and Chicago police departments, said the task force he is co-chairing is looking to come up with recommendations that can be built upon broadly.

“We certainly don’t expect to solve every problem,” Ramsey said, while adding: “This is a solid first step.”

The task force met earlier in Washington and plans February listening sessions in Phoenix, Arizona, before meeting again in Washington.

The nation’s mayors are paying close attention to the task force sessions, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said in a release Friday. Mayors last week released their own recommendations developed by a working group of mayors and police chiefs for improving community policing. One recommendation to increase public confidence was for police departments to call on independent or outside investigators when a death occurs during an encounter with an officer.


Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report


Online: www.cops.usdoj.gov/PolicingTaskForce

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