Obama sets panel to review police tactics

Obama sets panel to review police tactics
© Getty Images

President Obama on Thursday will sign an executive order formally establishing a task force to review police practices after recent controversies over the killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement officers.

First announced last month, the panel will be required to deliver a set of concrete recommendations to Obama’s desk by March 2, according to the directive.

"The president made it very clear when he created this task force he wanted this to be on the fast track," senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Thursday, adding that Obama had a "personal commitment and determination to seek change."

Obama announced the panel late last month after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo.

That decision sparked a series of protests across the country, with demonstrators saying the case was emblematic of systematic racial issues within the criminal justice system. And pressure intensified after a similar decision in the case of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a white police officer placed him in a chokehold.

At the time, Obama said the panel would be co-chaired by Philadelphia police Chief Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. On Thursday, the White House announced that Ron Davis, director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, would serve as the group's executive director.

The work of the group will be separate from a White House review on police militarization, which is looking to increase oversight of the distribution of military surplus materials to local police departments. White House officials say Obama is expected to unveil executive actions incorporating those recommendations in "early 2015."

Other members of the policing panel will include civil rights activist Jose Lopez, Equal Justice Initiative Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, and Teach for America's St. Louis Executive Director Brittany Packnett.

Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Executive Director Susan Rahr, Yale law professor Tracey Meares, civil rights lawyer Constance Rice, and Tucson, Ariz., police Chief Roberto Villaseñor will also serve on the task force. Police labor leader Sean Smoot and former Transportation Security Administration Federal Security Director Cedric Alexander will round out the panel.

Jarrett said the group realizes "these problems will not be solved swiftly," but she said Obama "has emphasized again and again the need to meet our challenges head on and to be honest about the complexities of the challenges we face."

"We're very comfortable that within the time prescribed, they can come back with some very specific suggestions," Jarrett said.

Davis said that the review would likely encompass an examination of how police departments recruit officers, how they could diversify, their use of force procedures, and concerns about implicit bias in policing. The panel will also review best practices for the use of body cameras, a central component in the president's response to the policing controversies.

Still, Davis said the panel wanted to keep an "open door" and allow for the possibility of new ideas that could improve the relationship between police and their communities.

Jarrett added that the president specifically wanted the panel to incorporate ideas of young activists after meeting with them at the White House earlier this month. She said Obama was "very struck" by their "passion, determination and conviction" after meeting them in the Oval Office.