Brittany Packnett

Brittany Packnett, who serves on both Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the Ferguson Commission, addressed the public at the commission’s second meeting on November 8.

Calling for civilian oversight of law enforcement and mandatory independent prosecutors in officer-involved deaths, President Barack Obama’s task force on policing released its recommendations Monday, March 1.

The 100-page report came after Obama signed an executive order on December 18 establishing the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The order was a response to the police killings of unarmed black men last year, including Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City.

The 11-member committee, which includes St. Louis Teach for America Executive Director Brittany Packnett, urged further research on successful civilian oversight models. It also recommended that law enforcement agencies establish policies that mandate the use of “external and independent prosecutors” in cases when police use of force results in death.

“Strong systems and policies that encourage use of an independent prosecutor for reviewing police uses of force and for prosecution in cases of inappropriate deadly force and in-custody death will demonstrate the transparency to the public that can leads to mutual trust between community and law enforcement,” the report states.

The task force also said that law enforcement agencies and municipalities should stop requiring officers to issue a “predetermined number” of tickets, citations, arrests or summonses in order to generate revenue.

In regards to body-worn cameras, the taskforce pointed to a study that found officers wearing the cameras had 87.5 percent fewer incidents of use of force and 59 percent fewer complaints than the officers not wearing the cameras.

“One of the important findings of the study was the impact (body-worn cameras) might have on the self-awareness of officers and citizens alike,” the report states. “When police officers are acutely aware that their behavior is being monitored (because they turn on the cameras), and when officers tell citizens that the cameras are recording their behavior, everyone behaves better.”

The committee encouraged stronger policies prohibiting profiling and discrimination, as well as enhancing training and community policing practices.

In his comments on Monday, Obama said he understands that some of the recommendations are controversial – particularly the need for independent investigations and independent prosecutors in cases of officer-involved deaths.

“But the importance of making sure that the sense of accountability when, in fact, law enforcement is involved in a deadly shooting is something that I think communities across the board are going to need to consider,” he said. 

A good portion of the report focuses on the way police act in schools, and it’s one of the areas where Packnett feels most optimistic about, she said.

“We have an opportunity at this moment to turn around the way police officers see our young people,” Packnett said.

Reverend Traci Blackmon, who is a member of the Ferguson Commission, said they will be looking to make their own recommendations soon and many will probably overlap those that the task force presented.

However, Blackmon said policies on body-worn cameras and civilian oversight are “empty gestures” if they don’t have any teeth to deal with the criminalization of minority communities.

Cameras are not effective unless there are also policies that hold police accountable for their actions, she said. Civilian oversight is not effective unless the boards are allowed to independently investigate the cases, she said.

“I think those things are necessary, but they don’t go far enough,” she said. “We have a racism issue. It’s not a race issue. Much of what we have now is rooted in fear. We have to begin to dismantle this culture to fear one another.”

On February 26, Blackmon was among 18 other civil rights and faith leaders who met with Obama on a variety of issues. Blackmon did not use her time to talk about policing. Instead, she focused on the lack of resources and funding for public education.

She said while millions of dollars are being put towards “militarizing communities,” many families have lost the opportunity to provide early childhood education to their children because of budget cuts.

“That hasn’t happened just in Ferguson, but all over the nation,” she said. “It isn’t helpful to have jobs if people aren’t equipped for them. We don’t have people intellectually prepared for those positions.”

Read the task force report: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/Interim_TF_Report.pdf

Follow this reporter on Twitter @rebeccarivas.

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