Violence shows need for police reforms

Baton Rouge Police Officer Markell Morris holds flowers and a Superman action figure that had been placed outside the hospital where officers wounded in an ambush Sunday morning were treated.
Baton Rouge Police Officer Markell Morris holds flowers and a Superman action figure that had been placed outside the hospital where officers wounded in an ambush Sunday morning were treated. Associated Press

Even before the country was shaken by the most recent outburst of racially charged violence, police chiefs and citizens were pleading for more advanced training and resources to better protect and serve their communities.

Congressional support and funding are essential to easing the growing tension between citizens and police.

Fortunately, a blueprint for reform is ready and waiting for the money to put it into action.

In 2014, after the protests and increased tension between police and citizens that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., President Barack Obama convened a group to identify the best practices for improving police-community relations and offer recommendations for law enforcement.

The 11 members of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing consisted of law enforcement officials, business executives, community members, civic leaders, advocates, researchers, academics and others.

At listening sessions across the country, more than 100 individuals offered their ideas and opinions on the current state of citizen and law enforcement relations.

The task force’s most adamant recommendation was to integrate police more deeply and personally into the community to develop trust between citizens and law enforcement. Creating postgraduate institutes for senior law enforcement executives was also a strong recommendation of the task force. Postgraduate institutes would serve to prepare senior law enforcement executives to lead agencies in the 21st century and stimulate innovative approaches to policing.

Achieving consistent standards for law enforcement and uniform training across all landscapes demands commitment and financial resources.

If police are to co-produce safety with the citizens they protect, Congress must move to increase the funding for universal training and de-escalation tactics. Another key component to rebuilding trust is a more community-involved approach to policing that emphasizes working with neighbors and residents.

Democrat Hillary Clinton has stated that if elected president, she aims to double the funding for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Collaborative Reform program that provides assistance and training to agencies that seek to reform their police departments.

This issue, however, should not hinge on who is elected president.

This crucial moment in law enforcement history requires action.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained mum on the issue. Kentuckians should demand more from their senior U.S. senator during this pivotal time.

As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky’s 5th District also holds a prime position to channel funding to law enforcement.

The events of recent weeks have demonstrated again that this is not a partisan issue or one that can be left until after an election.

McConnell and Rogers should use their leadership roles to initiate a discussion on providing the resources that our police and citizens need to create safer communities.

Following the fatal ambush of five police officers in Dallas, many Americans were impressed by the professional and compassionate response of the Dallas police. Mayor Mike Rawlings praised his city’s top-tier policing practices. “This police department trained in de-escalation far before cities across America did it ... and this year we have the fewest police officer-related shootings of any large city in America.”

Dallas is a prime example of the value of effective training in de-escalating violent situations and use of nonlethal force. In 2012, police shot 23 people; by 2015, the number had fallen to 11, and this year, Dallas has one police officer-related shooting in a city of 1.3 million people.

This level of training should be available to all law enforcement agencies, but that can’t happen unless Congress puts money into the training and other reforms that law enforcement officials have told us they need.