President's Task Force on Policing Recommends Independent Investigations into Police ShootingsMarch 03, 2015

President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its interim report Monday, which recommends that law enforcement agencies should mandate external and independent criminal investigations and use independent outside prosecutors in cases where police use of force results in injury or death.

President Obama unveiled the task force's recommendations at the White House yesterday. He said police departments should work to build trust with communities by addressing racial profiling, relaxing the police response to mass demonstrations, and collecting more data on police shootings and in-custody deaths.

"The moment is now for us to make these changes," he said. "We have a great opportunity, coming out of some great conflict and tragedy, to really transform how we think about community-law-enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel, rather than being embattled, feel fully supported. We need to seize that opportunity."

EJI Director Bryan Stevenson is one of the eleven task force members who have held seven listening sessions around the country and heard testimony from 120 witnesses since the panel was commissioned in December. Its 115-page interim report offers 63 recommendations, including that police should create a culture of transparency and accountability by making more data available to the public and acknowledging their role in past injustices.

Law enforcement agencies should measure community trust like they do crime rates and implement new policies and training that focus on de-escalating situations. Observing that new research on adolescent development has raised doubts about the efficacy of "zero tolerance" policies that have created a "school-to-prison pipeline," the task force specifically recommended that policies and programs be adopted to "reduce aggressive law enforcement tactics that stigmatize youth and marginalize their participation in schools and communities."

To make police forces better reflect the demographics of the communities they serve, the task force recommended residency incentive programs and the creation of a federal Law Enforcement Diversity Initiative. It also called for increased civilian oversight and an end to "quotas" for tickets, citations, arrests, or summonses.

Law enforcement officers should be required to seek consent before a search, the report says, and explain that a person has the right to refuse consent when there is no warrant or probable cause. The use of body cameras and other technology should be evaluated in light of concerns about privacy and costs.

Observing that "police represent the 'face' of the criminal justice system to the public," the task force recommended the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force to review and evaluate all components of the criminal justice system, including drug policy, sentencing, and incarceration.