Rebuilding trust between many communities and their police officers will be a long, hard slog.
But everyone agrees it must be done. That was the message from a Congressional working group, which stopped in Detroit Tuesday.
The bipartisan Policing Strategies Working Group is trying to advance that goal with a series of meetings around the country.
House judiciary committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., announced the group's formation last month, in the wake of multiple high-profile police shootings of black men, followed by retaliatory killings of police officers in Texas and Louisiana.
In Detroit, members met privately with law enforcement, community leaders and other stakeholders, before making their first public statements as a group.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, called strengthening police-community bonds “the civil rights issue of our time.”
But she said doing that requires “trust” — and that requires police agencies to provide more data about their interactions with the public.
Jackson-Lee says that’s a central piece of the proposed Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. But so far, she says police forces have been reluctant to provide it.
“Of the 18,000 police departments, only 53 have committed to the White House, when the White House asked, that they submit voluntary statistics on what happens in their police work,” Jackson-Lee said.
A bipartisan package of “criminal justice reform bills could very well pass the House” before the end of this year, Goodlatte said. “This is something I think the American people would like to see us work in a bipartisan fashion to address.”
But truly tackling this issue will require more sustained work on trickier issues that can’t be legislated — tackling topics like implicit racial bias against African Americans, and changing “hearts and minds” among both police and civilian populations.
That starts with a focus on hiring good officers with a public service mentality, and more funding and training to help facilitate a “culture change that starts at the top” of local police departments, said Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.
Lawrence says that’s hard work, but says nothing less than American democracy and fundamental rights are at stake in this fight. U.S. Rep. David Reichert, R-Washington, agreed.
“It needs to be resolved, and it needs to be resolved today,” said Reichert, a former county sheriff. “Or the fabric of our communities will crumble and fall apart.”