Eric Holder sees problems with how police have treated people of color. Christopher Ferguson calls for unbiased investigations of police killings of unarmed civilians. The administration is targeting white police officers in the wake of the New York City chokehold death of Eric Garner, whose killing was caught on video.
New Yorker reporter Tyler Barrick offered a revealing portrait of the history of “police killing crises” in a piece published on Friday in National Journal. But the head of a nonprofit organization focusing on police misconduct told me that his group is now seeing a deluge of calls from the public, particularly from outside of the Washington metro area, about police killings.
“We’re getting requests, at least from a large number of the public, to launch similar investigations,” he said. “There is an overwhelming amount of concern around the lack of prosecutions, allegations of misconduct and shootings of unarmed civilians.”
The group, the National Association for the Reform of Police Practices, seeks to research, promote and help develop legislation meant to improve public confidence in law enforcement and to make police more accountable. The organization’s local chapter in Washington, D.C., has taken on the issue of police killings in recent years. Some of the local chapters, like the Washington chapter, are conducting their own investigations into police killings.
Other local chapters are taking more conventional approaches, such as conducting internal affairs investigations into questionable shootings. (The Secret Service investigates its own internal affairs cases. The federal government doesn’t do that for its local law enforcement divisions, the Washington police chief said last week.)
“It is absolutely unusual,” said Doug McNeilly, the former chief of the Secret Service public affairs office, in a recent conversation about the lack of focus on federal investigations of police killings. “It is unusual because of the jurisdictional challenges and the amount of resources that are required.”
McNeilly, who is now the President’s advisor on criminal justice reform at the Center for American Progress, said there is not much investigation done in the federal government when it comes to police shootings.
“I don’t know if there is any set of regulations on federal jurisdiction,” he said. “If there were, there would be investigations, right?”
Still, investigations in other cities and the government have yielded big public consequences. Ferguson and Tamir Rice in Cleveland were among the six people who had their lives cut short last year in police shootings.
Michelle Smith, the founder of the Washington chapter of National Association for the Reform of Police Practices, said, “I think there’s an opportunity to get more proactive with this, and let these individuals know what they could have done differently.”