President Obama on Thursday signed an executive order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The panel will be co-chaired by Philadelphia police commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, a professor at George Mason University and former U.S. assistant attorney general, and Ronald Davis, who heads up the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services office, will serve as executive director.
The president announced plans to create the task force and its leaders earlier this month. On Thursday, he disclosed the names of the members who will serve on it, which the White House described as a diverse group of law enforcement representatives, community leaders, academics and youth leaders. An initial report and recommendations on how to strengthen public trust and relationships between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to serve and protect while also reducing crime is expected by March 2.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in a conference call with reporters late Thursday described the task force's work as "critically important" to the president.
"He has emphasized again and again the need to meet our challenges head on and to be honest about the complexity of the problems we face," Jarrett said. "To make meaningful progress, we need to build complex coalitions and spur ongoing discussions and actions at all levels of government and throughout our community, and he is determined to lead that effort."
The task force is expected to conduct public hearings, meetings and teleconferences to gather input and testimony from a broad range of sources from academics and other experts to community residents from around the nation, Davis explained. Obama also has instructed the group to engage young people in their work.
After turning in its preliminary report, the president may task the group with additional work and implement their recommendations through executive orders or to craft legislation.
In recent weeks, law enforcement in various cities have expressed frustration and sometimes anger at the suggestion that they are not doing their job. They have demanded apologies in some cases from professional athletes who've worn T-shirts with such phrases as "I Can't Breathe" or made the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture on basketball courts and football fields.
Given their mood, might the task force meet a wall of resistance?
According to Jarrett, "police are very interested in making sure that they are always looking at best practices" and seeking ways to build and strengthen the bond of trust between themselves and their communities.
"I do think there's a spirit in our country that is motivated toward change. It's going to be difficult and challenging. Some of the conversations may be tense, some of them may be very uncomfortable, but I think what the president is determined to do is create an atmosphere where we can have those conversations safely and that people can disagree without being disagreeable," Jarrett said. "That's why it's been terrific to see so many young people involved in nonviolent demonstrations around the country and that builds momentum and also helps motivate change."
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(Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Landov)