Police leaders offered an unapologetic defense of U.S. law enforcement yesterday, telling a White House panel that flagging public trust is largely due to powerful social forces beyond their control, including extreme poverty, untreated mental illness and lack of resources, USA today reports. The task force, chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Justice Department official Laurie Robinson, was formed amid unrest linked to violent police tactics. Its members will present recommendations for improving law enforcement and community relations by March 2. Heads of the largest police union and chiefs group said zero-tolerance laws have sapped officer discretion that could be used to promote respect in communities.
Richard Beary of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Chuck Canterbury of the Fraternal Order of Police acknowledged a racially charged wariness that has come to define tense standoffs in Ferguson, Mo., New York, Albuquerque and other places. Canterbury urged rejecting “the notion that law enforcement culture is intrinsically racist.” Beary contended that, “For the most part, law enforcement officers have great relationships with their communities ..the recent incidents that have been the center of focus are not the norm.” University of Nebraska-Omaha criminologist Samuel Walker called on police to prohibit such simple behaviors as offensive language, which he said contributes to combative encounters and negative public impressions of police.