President Barack Obama's Task Force On 21st Century Policing, released earlier this month, provides local law enforcement with concrete ideas designed to improve the relationship between the police and the people they are sworn to serve.
I am especially pleased that the interim report lists as its first overarching recommendation the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force “to evaluate all components of the criminal justice system for the purpose of making recommendations to the country on criminal justice reform.”
As long ago as 1990, when I served as Police Commissioner of New York City and President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), I urged President George H.W. Bush to establish a crime commission similar to the National Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration Justice created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s.
The IACP has asked every president since then to create such a commission. It is in that context that I view President Obama's action as a very important start.
But we must now move immediately to the next step: bringing together the best and brightest minds in America to carefully examine not only the components of the criminal justice system, but also the factors that contribute to an unacceptable high rate of crime in the country.
Such a commission must recognize that crime is a very complex issue that involves all of our social institutions. Factors such as education, employment, healthcare, poverty and racial inequality must also be considered. In the interim I hope that law enforcement will seriously examine the thoughtful recommendations contained in the interim report to the president.
Law enforcement's challenge is to recognize that we have a system of policing in America that is localized. There are over 18,000 independent police agencies in America and each has its own leadership, culture and policies. The present challenge is to determine what role the federal government can play in taking law enforcement to the next level.
I believe, however, that each local police agency must embrace and adopt the concept of community policing as it's dominate method to deliver its services to communities. The task force's recommendations offer a perfect platform for creating a new culture in American policing.
In my recent book, Policing in the 21st Century: Community Policing, I discuss how the South African government embraced community policing as it moved from apartheid to democracy.
The concept is even included in that nation's new constitution.
What I suggested to the leadership of South Africa, while consulting there, is applicable to any country:
“Dispelling the notion in a community or a country where both sides cling to the experience of police as occupiers is a demanding challenge. But I believe it can be accomplished anywhere where hope is alive. “
Hope is very much alive in our country. President Obama took a major step forward by empanelling the Task Force to consider the correct method of policing.
It is now incumbent on every police chief in America to provide the leadership required to embrace a fundamental change in how police services are delivered.
Community policing provides them with a prudent road map.
Dr. Lee P. Brown is the former head of law enforcement agencies in Multnomah County, Oregon, Atlanta, Houston, and New York City. The former mayor of Houston, he also served as U.S. drug czar and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He welcomes comments from readers.