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Obama Task Force Members Issue 'Call To Action' To Improve Policing

President Obama named a Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2014 to identify best practices and recommend on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust.

Since the task force’s final report in May 2015, there have been more than 133 national, state, or local task forces, councils, and working groups responding to police violence.

Members of the Obama task force say that the U.S. "remains in a policing crisis, and too many poor communities of color face the adverse conditions of poverty and economic exclusion that aggravate the relationship between communities and police."

In a new report, Obama panel members note that the brutal beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis by a specialized unit of the Memphis Police Department prompted a review of the role of specialized units and use of force.

"However, this is not enough, and the situation demands an in-depth examination of policing culture," the group says, adding that "real solutions require looking beyond police reform toward underlying causes, including whole-of-government and whole-of-community responses."

In February, former task force co-chairs Laurie Robinson and Charles Ramsey convened former task force members to discuss the current crisis of confidence in policing.

The group noted that the number of people killed by police, particularly people of color, continues to trend upward. From 2015–2021, more than 135 unarmed Black people died during police stops.

The panel said that, "Filmed brutality continues to emerge, and community anguish grows with each video. Many have lost hope that these deadly encounters will end. While many Black residents applaud legitimate policing that protects the community from violent individuals, many reject unconstitutional interventions and improper stop and-frisk and other tactics designed to control crime.

More than a half-century ago recommendations on policing from the Kerner Commission were largely rejected in favor of policies that increased mass incarceration rather than mass investment in poor communities.

Changing police culture is crucial to reducing unnecessary harm to communities, say the Obama task force members, adding that, "As long as American society maintains impoverished ghettos and demands safety segregation that keeps 'good' neighborhoods safe and 'bad' neighborhoods contained, suppressive policing will continue. Culture change alone will fail to end the videos.

"We know how to change the mission of policing and replace dehumanizing enforcement with healthier resident-police partnerships. We know how to do 'all hands-on deck' community safety initiatives that demilitarize policing, improve neighborhood conditions, and reduce violence with fewer arrests. But these more humane strategies must fight the inertia of our multilayered comfort with 'tradition' "

The report offers eight recommendations:

1. Establish a holistic role and mission of policing to help define community safety.

2. Align policing leadership, organizational structure, incentives, and strategies to the redefined mission.

3. Rebuild the culture of policing organizations.

4. Establish national policing standards; train to those standards; and provide supervision to ensure their application.

5. Address gaps in accountability systems that protect due process of officers while ensuring transparency and accountability for misconduct.

6. Invest locally and organize communities to address unjust systems that contribute to poverty and racism.

7. Address underlying drivers of crime.

8. The Federal Government should collaborate and support community-based organizations and local and state government in helping to create safe communities as outlined in this call to action.

Other members of the group that wrote the report in addition to Robinson and Ramsey are Sean Smoot of 21CP solutions, Minneapolis public safety commissioner Cedric Alexander, Yale law Prof. Tracey Meares, former King County, Wa., sheriff Sue Rahr, Los Angeles civil rights attorney Constance Rice and former Tucson, Az., police chief Roberto Villaseñor.


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