To Shape National Agenda, Communities United for Police Reform Offers Testimony to President Obama on How to Improve Police Policy and Oversight in the 21st Century
On Friday, January 30 and Saturday, January 31, leaders of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) join numerous advocates and leaders to submit testimony to President Obama’s administration on how to reform police policy and oversight, especially in large urban areas like New York City.
Written comments on how to make policing less discriminatory and abusive were submitted by Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and a range of CPR member organizations, including: the Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Popular Democracy, Color of Change, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and New York Civil Liberties Union. Rashad Robinson of Color of Change and Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights provided oral testimony before the Task Force on use of force and civilian oversight issues. On Saturday, Johanna Miller of the New York Civil Liberties Union will provide oral testimony on police body cameras. Communities United for Police Reform was also a signatory to written comments submitted by advocates for women of color and LGBTQ communities.
Jose Lopez, lead organizer at Make the Road New York and Communities United for Police Reform Steering Committee member, sits on the 11-person Task Force on Twenty-First Century Policing appointed by President Obama in 2014.
The January 30-31st sessions in Cincinnati are part of a series of listening sessions that the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is conducting around the country. Today focused on ways to improve police policy and oversight. Advocates addressed the use of force and discipline, early warning systems, civilian oversight, civil rights enforcement, policing technology and other relevant and timely issues.
Those who provided testimony emphasized the crisis of discriminatory and abusive policing in communities of color, and for women of color and LGBTQ communities. And they offered a series of actionable recommendations for reforming policing at the federal, state, and municipal levels.
“Recent national attention to police killings has helped to shine a bright light on the problem of excessive and deadly force…the lack of meaningful and timely accountability from police departments and local justice systems in cases of police brutality or killings results in re-traumatizing police brutality survivors and families who have lost loved ones to police killings. These experiences result in fear, anger and lack of trust that officers will protect and serve all New Yorkers or Americans equally. This is the opposite of what safety should look like in our communities,” said Loyda Colon, in their written testimony submitted for Communities United for Police Reform (CPR). Colon is the Co-Director of the Justice Committee, a community-based organization in New York City that has worked with victims of police brutality and families who have lost loved ones to excessive and deadly police force for the last three decades.
Colon’s recommendations to President Obama for police reform included the following:
On policing policy, practice and accountability, CPR’s recommendations include:
- An end to broken windows, and other discriminatory and abusive policing policies;
- Standardized use of force policies that seek to eliminate excessive use of force and incentive communication and de-escalation;
- Development of comprehensive accountability systems that include clear consequences in police disciplinary procedures for officers who utilize unjustified excessive or deadly force; and
- Establishment of independent special prosecutors for all cases involving civilians killed by police and/or while in police custody, as well as excessive force cases.
On policy transparency and data collection, CPR called for:
- Public reporting and analysis of police department data on a range of police-community interactions, including: all stop, frisk, search, summons, arrest, use of force, injury/deaths while in police custody (including demographic data such as race, gender, age);
- Establishment of a federal database on use of force, civilian deaths, and disciplinary and criminal justice outcomes. Incidents should include firearm discharges, killings by police, and deaths while in police custody, disaggregated by demographic data such as race, gender, and age;
- The launch of a Department of Justice investigation into broken windows policing and the use-of-force policies and practices of the NYPD;
- The convening of a Congressional Hearing to investigate the criminalization of communities of color and other communities that have been harmed by discriminatory and abusive policing.
Speaking on behalf of more than 1 million ColorOfChange members, Rashad Robinson stated: “The problems before us are not new. But the level of investment and commitment needed to address police misconduct and restore integrity and equality to our criminal justice system is great and must be realized immediately in order to ensure the necessary real-world change.”
ColorOfChange made a series of recommendations in the areas of: Civilian oversight; police culture; disciplinary systems; use of force; mass demonstrations; use of military equipment by local police; and civil rights enforcement.
The Center for Constitutional Rights made the following recommendations to Obama’s Task Force:
- Independent Civilian Complaint Investigative Bodies Must Be Sufficiently Funded and Have Prosecutorial Power;
- Increase Transparency of Police Department Dispositions of Disciplinary Cases;
- Creation of Independent Police Auditor/Inspector General Offices to Study and Recommend Reforms to Local Police Department Policies and Practices;
- Conduct Research on Civilian Governance of Municipal Police Departments;
- Protect the Rights of Civilians to Record Police-Civilian Encounters;
- Incorporate Community Input and Engagement into Court Monitorships.
On Saturday, Jan. 31, the New York Civil Liberties Union will testify on police body cameras. In its testimony, the NYCLU encourages police departments to adopt sensible and enforceable policies that ensure body cameras are used for the limited purpose of maximizing officer accountability, with privacy protections and oversight to prevent abuse of the technology.
“Body cameras should be a great step toward police reform and accountability but only if their use is accompanied by deliberate, transparent policies that protect both officers and the public,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Many Americans feel like this is a desperate time for police-community relations, but a complex technology like body cameras can’t be a quick fix. We need clear guidelines, limits and oversight of their use to ensure body cameras are used only to further transparency and accountability and, ultimately, protect both the public and police officers.”
As an emerging technology with the potential to intrude in significant and as-yet-unseen ways on privacy, body cameras require rigorous rules governing where and when they should be used, and how their recordings should be stored. The NYCLU recommends that the Department of Justice establish strict privacy protections, including allowing people to refuse to be recorded except in situations such as a police raid or execution of a warrant.
“Body cameras will allow police to record people inside their homes, classrooms – even hospital rooms,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller, who will be testifying on Saturday. “Making sure that people know they are being recorded and giving them the opportunity to consent or refuse whenever possible will help ensure body cameras become a tool for accountability instead of a tool for abuse.”
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s written comments focused on racism and structural barriers that influence police culture; civilian oversight of police culture; and the lack of federal reporting related to extrajudicial killings by law enforcement. Malcolm X Grassroots 2012 report on “Operation Ghetto Storm: Report on Extrajudicial Killing of Black People” found that a Black woman, man or child was killed in the United States every 28 hours by law enforcement, security or vigilante.
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s main recommendations:
- Institute policies that enable adequate federal monitoring and data collection
- Make federal funding to local police departments conditional, based on compliance with reporting and other requirements
- Utilize standards such as those in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to inform criteria for support of local “community-oriented policing” strategies to reduce racial disparities and harm on communities of color.
The Center for Popular Democracy’s recommended a series of national and local actionable items including:
- A comprehensive review by the Department of Justice into systematic abuses by police departments and the development of specific use of force standards and accompanying recommendations for police training, community involvement and oversight strategies and standards for independent investigatory/disciplinary mechanisms for excessive use of force. These standards should include a Department of Justice review trigger when continued excessive use of force occurs;
- Strict limits on the transfer and use of military equipment to local law enforcement. The federal government should discontinue the supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement and immediately demilitarize local law enforcement, including eliminating the use of military technology and equipment.
- The development of a DOJ policy to withhold funds from local police departments engaged in discriminatory policing practices and conditioning of federal grant funds to local police departments on the adoption of recommended DOJ trainings, community involvement and oversight strategies, use of force standards and standards for independent investigatory/disciplinary mechanisms;
- Repurposing of Department of Justice (including COPS) funds to create grants that support and implement community oversight mechanisms and community based alternatives to punitive law enforcement and incarceration—including community boards/commissions, restorative justice practices, amnesty programs to clear open warrants, and know-your-rights-education conducted by community members.
- Requirement that all juvenile and criminal justice related legislation be accompanied by a racial/ethnic/gender/age impact statement detailing any projected disproportionate impact on communities of color.
- The end of ‘War on Drugs’ tactics and practices, which result in disproportionate contact between police and communities of color. This includes the decriminalization of marijuana and a de-prioritizing by local law enforcement of drug possession (in the choice to summons, arrest and prosecute).
- The adoption of policies that mandate meaningful and binding community input in determining the purpose, priorities and practices of local law enforcement. This may include empowered civilian complaint review boards, community advisory boards, community.
- Pass, effectively implement, and enforce LGBT-inclusive anti-profiling measures
- End discriminatory policing of homeless people and low-income communities
- End the use of condoms as evidence of all prostitution-related crimes
- Establish nationwide standards for treatment of LGBT people in custody
- End Sexual Harassment and Assault by Law Enforcement Officers
- Ensure that civilian oversight bodies are made up of representatives from communities directly impacted by discriminatory policing, including youth, women, and LGBTQ communities, similar to those established under federal consent decrees with the City of Seattle and Cincinnati, should be established and vested with substantial authority, including subpoena power and independent disciplinary authority.