Friday, December 05, 2014

Cleaver pleased with Obama comments on community policing

(From Fifth District Congressman Emanuel Cleaver)

Trust must exist between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. It is imperative. This week has shown there is much work that must be done. In fact, the last few months have shown that. And perhaps no one knows that better, than those of us in Missouri.

In the weeks and months that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, I worked, along with Congressman Clay, who represents that area, and others, to initiate a change in law enforcement. I believe a fundamental shift needs to take place in moving away from a military-style response, and toward a more community-based, proportionate-response, style of policing.

I was very pleased this week, when the President announced his desire to strengthen community policing as well, and improve mutual trust between those charged with protecting the public, and citizens. President Obama released the Administration's Review of Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition. A very long name but a goal that is summed up pretty quickly. All members of law enforcement deserve the best tools and training available. This is critical in order for them to serve our communities, and to protect those of us living in them. However, we should not turn our cities into war zones. The President's voicing of his intentions and priorities was an important first step, and I am honored and encouraged that many of those priorities are ones I have championed for many months.

The White House has provided several examples of potential improvements, including:

ensuring that all equipment available for acquisition by law enforcement agencies has a legitimate civilian law enforcement purpose;
including training requirements that address appropriate use and deployment of equipment;
broadening transparency of the 1033 and other agency equipment repurpose programs; and
requiring police officers to wear body cameras.

In August of this year, Congressman Clay and I wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. In it, we asked him to review the 1033 Program. The next day, we met with Secretary Hagel at the Pentagon, to talk about the militarization of local law enforcement, and some of the inherent dangers we saw in this trend. It is through the 1033 Program, that surplus Department of Defense equipment is often times distributed to local law enforcement agencies. I was encouraged by his response then, and continue to be encouraged in the wake of the President's response now.

I believe it is important, as we advocate for change, to do so in a way that commands respect, an open mind, and a receptive ear. The thousands of you in Missouri's Fifth District have conducted yourselves in just that way. I am stopped repeatedly in Washington by colleagues, who tell me how impressed they are by the response of those in the Fifth District to the Michael Brown case, that of Eric Garner, and others. As one Member of Congress said to me, "Your constituents seem to understand the importance of standing up - and speaking out - for what they believe in, but doing it without causing more pain and tragedy in the process." As always, I could not be more proud to represent you.

I think there are many factors contributing to the measured, yet passionate voices, coming from our district. And the good relationship we enjoy with law enforcement plays a pivotal role. Sure, there are issues, problems, and concerns sometimes, but a long line of good local law enforcement leaders has benefitted us greatly.

It is my hope we can continue working together, listening to one another, and moving forward in a positive and productive way, as we tackle these and other deep and meaningful issues.

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