Building Trust and Confidence in the Criminal Justice System:
Procedural Fairness and Treating People with Respect and Dignity
203rd National Academy Class
October 17, 2000
Remarks of Daniel Marcus
Acting Associate Attorney General
I too would like to thank the FBI Academy for welcoming us this morning. Across the country, communities are examining how police officers do their jobs; how they handle deadly confrontations and how they protect and respect the people they serve.
For the past eight years, the crime rate has fallen in virtually every category, in nearly every community in America. Much of the credit for this reduction in crime goes to men and women, such as yourselves, in law enforcement. Communities around the country have put more dedicated community police officers on the street, working the neighborhoods, getting to know the youth in the area, and going the extra mile to help prevent crime in the first place.
Even with the advances in policing that many of your departments have participated in, however, there are places where distrust and tensions are high. In some of the same communities that have benefitted from additional policing services, some residents do not feel that they are better off. Especially in minority neighborhoods, some are wondering whether our success in reducing crime comes at the cost of overly aggressive police officers who ignore our civil liberties. For too many people, the trust that is so essential to effective policing does not exist because residents believe that police have used excessive force, or that law enforcement is biased, disrespectful and unfair.
Tensions between police and minority residents affect all aspects of the criminal justice system. When citizens do not trust their local police officer, they are less willing to report crime and less willing to be witnesses in criminal cases. Jurors are less willing to accept as truthful the testimony of officers. And recruitment of police officers from minority communities becomes that much harder. When police and the community are alienated, police officers can't even get credit for what they are doing right.
The Department of Justice is committed to addressing these problems. In June of 1999, President Clinton and the Attorney General convened a conference on Strengthening Police-Community Relationships. We brought together police chiefs and police labor, civil rights advocates, community leaders, and academic experts to identify police practices and reforms that can build trust, reduce police misconduct, and enhance police integrity.
At that conference, and in several follow-up meetings since, we have focused on several key issues. The first has been racial profiling. Virtually everyone agrees that racial profiling is, as President Clinton said last June, a "morally indefensible, deeply corrosive practice" that is "the opposite of good police work, where actions are based on hard facts, not stereotypes." There is not a consensus about whether and to what extent racial profiling is a factor in particular jurisdictions and particular law enforcement actions. But a recent Gallup poll indicates that more than half of Americans believe that police engage in the practice of racial profiling. At the Department, we have focused on collecting data on traffic stops and citizen encounters as a means of identifying whether racial profiling occurs and the scope of the problem some of our motorists and pedestrians encounter.
Second, we must insist on accountability. All law enforcement agencies - federal, state and local - from the director, chief or sheriff on down, must send a clear message that misconduct will not be tolerated; rude or unfair treatment will not be countenanced.
This is not a responsibility of management alone. Rank and file officers must join together to promote a climate of integrity, civility, accountability and responsibility. They must be intolerant of misconduct by fellow officers, and they must make it unacceptable to keep silent about other officers' misconduct.
Third, we need to ensure that police departments recruit officers who reflect the communities they serve, who have high standards and who are then properly trained to deal with the stresses and the dangers of police work. As Tom Frazier likes to say: "We must recruit those who come to policing in the spirit of service, not in the spirit of adventure."
Finally, many participants identified "routine" police-citizen encounters -- such as traffic stops and stops of pedestrians for questioning -- as a source of potential conflict and tension, especially where residents in the community believe that law enforcement action is being taken based, in part, on racial stereotypes or bias. In addition, the way an officer undertakes the initial approach, and whether the citizen believes that he is being dealt with fairly and respectfully, is often just as important as the outcome of an encounter in shaping the attitudes of that citizen towards law enforcement, as well as the citizen's willingness to comply with the law and the officer's instructions.
Thus, enhancing officers' ability to use the appropriate "tone of voice" to de-escalate citizen encounters, to communicate effectively with minority youth, and to assert authority in situations without being disrespectful, can be effective ways to promote cooperation in the community and minimize resort to use of force, while at the same time preserving officer safety. These are the various initiatives that the Department is working on to promote police as problem solvers and peacemakers. In the seminar that you're participating in today, we're concentrating on one particular aspect of policing. Winston Churchill once said "It costs nothing to be polite." In a sense, the purpose of this meeting is to see whether the police think this statement is true.
Sometimes called "polite policing" or "respectful policing", the basic principles will be outlined for you by Professor Thomas Tyler of New York University and Professor Lawrence Sherman of the University of Pennsylvania. We want to learn about your experiences as seasoned law enforcement officers and policy agency officials. You'll have the opportunity to examine the ideas you hear this morning and tell us what you think of them, how you could implement these ideas in your agencies, and whether you have different approaches to improving police-community interaction. We're here to learn from you.
So let's get started with the work of the day. I'd like to introduce today's facilitator, Chuck Wexler, of the Police Executive Research Forum. Many of you are familiar with PERF: It is an organization of law enforcement executives from the larger police agencies in the United States. PERF engages in police and criminal justice research, management studies and consulting, and technical assistance to police agencies and community partnerships. Chuck, who is an alumnus of the Boston Police Department, has been the Executive Director of PERF since 1993.