ACTING ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL MARCUS AND PROSECUTION CONFERENCE JUNE 1, 2000
Good afternoon. 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 the men and women 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.
The Weed and Seed sites and many other programs you have been discussing over the past two days are examples of successful partnerships between law enforcement agencies and community organizations. All across America, neighborhoods are safer.
At the same time, however, there are places where distrust and tensions are high. Even in communities that have benefitted from additional policing services, some residents do not feel that they are better off. Especially in minority neighborhoods, some citizens wonder 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 or 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.
We know that police misconduct is not an inevitable byproduct of our crackdown on crime. Effective policing does not mean abusive policing. Every American must respect the law, but the law must respect every American. The vast majority of officers do great honor to the badges they wear with pride. But we must hold accountable those few officers who abuse their power by mistreating law-abiding citizens or who bring their own racial bias to the job of policing.
The Department of Justice is committed to addressing these problems. Last June, President Clinton and the Attorney General convened a conference on Strengthening Police-Community Relationships. We brought together police chiefs, police labor leaders, civil rights advocates, community leaders, and academic experts to identify best practices and police reforms that can build trust, reduce police misconduct, and enhance police integrity.
At the June 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, in the words of President Clinton, 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 over half of Americans believe that police do engage in the practice of racial profiling.
One way to begin to address this difficult problem is by collecting data on the persons who are stopped by law enforcement officials. By providing information about the nature, character and demographics of police enforcement patterns, data collection can shift the rhetoric surrounding racial profiling from accusations, anecdotal stories and stereotypes to a more rational, informed discussion about the appropriate allocation of police resources.
Since last June, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of jurisdictions that have committed to collecting data on their traffic, and in some cases, pedestrian stops. State police Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, and Washington State are recording and making public the racial and ethnic pattern of their traffic stops. In California, forty-five local police departments, have begun to implement data collection systems. In addition, in June, the President directed the major federal law enforcement agencies to begin data collection pilot programs at the beginning of this year.
As part of our efforts on racial profiling, the Department is funding a resource guide on data collection that describes how several agencies are collecting traffic stop data, and what obstacles they faced in developing their systems.
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 and rude or unfair treatment will not be tolerated.
This is not a responsibility of management alone. Rank and file officers must join together to promote a climate of integrity, civility, and responsibility. They must not tolerate misconduct by fellow officers, and they must make it unacceptable to keep silent about other officers' misconduct.
Police agencies need to assure the public that they have systems in place for proper supervision of officers; for identifying potential police misconduct; and for early intervention (for example, through counseling, additional training, or reassignment) when potential problems are identified. And they must have effective systems for accepting complaints, investigating allegations of misconduct, and imposing discipline as appropriate where misconduct is substantiated. One of our meetings focused specifically on the effectiveness of early warning systems and use of force reporting systems.
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. We need to retool police personnel practices - the way we recruit, hire and train new officers, and the criteria we use to evaluate and promote officers, to ensure a diverse and community oriented police force. 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."
We must build on the successes of community policing and at the same time address police practices that may contribute to mistrust in the community. The Department believes that hiring and training officers and organizing police departments in ways that emphasize problem solving, community partnering, enhanced communications skills, and conflict resolution is one way to accomplish this end.
By developing programs that promote police as problem solvers and peacemakers, we emphasize the principle that police officers can be effective in reducing crime and keeping our neighborhoods safe, while at the same time treating all citizens with respect and dignity and protecting our Constitutional rights.