Department of Justice Seal


REMARKS FOR THE ACTING ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

EXAMINING USE OF FORCE POLICY AND PROCEDURE

Washington, D.C.

May 4, 2000, 9:05 AM


Good morning. I am pleased to see so many of you back here in Washington for the next step in the collaborative process we started nearly a year ago in June. We have a diverse and impressive group of participants gathered today for what promises to be a frank and compelling discussion. When we met last June at the conference on Strengthening Police-Community Relations, the topic of use of force policy and practice was one of the most important issues we addressed. Today's conference offers an opportunity for us to be honest with one another about the depth of the problem and continue our search for viable solutions. We must ask the hard questions, identify the compelling issues and outline areas for the development of "best practices" that can be implemented in police departments and communities across the country.

We have seen a remarkable change in our approach to policing in the past ten years. There has been a growing level of police professionalism and a national shift toward community policing that involves citizens in our policing efforts. We know that the police are doing their jobs and doing them better. Nevertheless, we also know that there are places where distrust and tensions are high on both sides. Too many citizens -- especially those living in minority communities -- continue to mistrust the law enforcement officials on whom they must rely for protection. We know all too well that the lack of respect, or abuse, that some people are forced to endure at the hands of just a few officers, can poison the well of confidence that is essential to effective policing. All of us understand that police abuse and misconduct help undermine the legitimacy of civil authority in our communities. High profile incidents involving the use of force, whether legally "excessive" or not, fuel mistrust and create hostility. This is especially true where it appears that racial bias or stereotypes played a role in the decision of whether to use force or how much force to use. These problems are not limited to any one department or any one city. They are national in scope and touch people everywhere.

In order to continue our progress in battling the ongoing violent crime problem, a solid trusting relationship between our minority communities and those in law enforcement is essential. This relationship can only be developed and fostered if we address head on the concerns and questions that persist. For example, does our police training adequately prepare officers for everyday encounters as well as violent confrontations? An officer's language and behavior during interactions with citizens often frame the reaction of citizens and their attitudes toward the police. Have we done enough to emphasize "disengagement" techniques, and how to avoid situations where an officer may have to use force?

Also, how can we ensure that officers don't allow their experiences in dealing with crime and violence, and the stress of police work, color their perceptions of an entire community and develop into suspicions based on stereotypes?

This morning, we will examine how bias and stereotypes can influence law enforcement activities, particularly in use of force incidents. We will also discuss ways to address bias through training. This is an important issue not only for minority communities, but within police departments themselves. Incidents involving "friendly fire", where off-duty or undercover officers, who are often minorities, have been injured or killed by other officers, have added fuel to the argument that racial bias and stereotypes play a role in enforcement decisions.

Finally, after a working lunch where the Memphis Police Department will provide valuable training on interacting with the mentally ill, we will discuss use of force policy and training. In the discussion of policy and training, we have an opportunity to discuss and develop "best practices" and ways to emphasize interactions without resorting to use of force. Ultimately, this is a discussion about mutual respect. It is about how American citizens, regardless of their color or economic condition, are to be treated by those who serve them. But it must also be a discussion of how those in the minority communities can help by partnering with those in law enforcement so that they can be most effective in their work. If we work together, at the end of the day, we will have taken a few more steps toward finding common ground, developing best practices and building trust between law enforcement and minority communities.

We thank you for coming today. And we thank you for your continuing dedication to this effort. I look forward to hearing about the results of today's discussions.