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Attorney General Loretta Lynch discusses law enforcement transparency


U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch concluded her national “Community Policing Tour” last week in Los Angeles, where she met with Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck, and U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker to discuss the ways that the LAPD has made use of modern technology to prevent crimes and interact with the community.

Los Angeles was chosen as one of the six stops because it is “effectively implementing” recommendations outlined in President Barack Obama’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The Task Force recommendations provide meaningful solutions to help law enforcement agencies and communities strengthen trust and collaboration, while ushering the nation into the next phase of community-focused policing.

The ‘six pillars’ to the report are Building Trust and Legitimacy; Policy and Oversight; Technology and Social Media; Community Policing and Crime Reduction; Officer Training and Education; and Officer Safety and Wellness.

Before attending the city’s Summer Night Lights anti-crime and anti-gang program, Lynch spent the day meeting with high ranking LAPD officials.

“Here in Los Angeles, the pillar that we are highlighting is the one that talks about social media and technology,” Lynch said.  “Now, as we all know, social media has been a vital force in illuminating the challenges and the tensions within law enforcement and community relationships. In fact it’s really brought a number of issues to light, and has allowed us to deal with them in a very very immediate way. The challenge for law enforcement today, the challenge of 21st century policing, is how to ensure that we are using the best and most innovating tools available to protect the public and ensure the well being of our communities.”

One of the pressing topics was the LAPD effort to equip all of their officers with body cameras. While the goal of the program was transparency, it has been met with controversy because of a decision to not make the videos available to the public unless there is a court order.

Demonstrators, including those from the Black Lives Matter movement, stood outside of the LAPD facility where Lynch held a press conference to protest against this decision, on the grounds that it undermines transparency.

“I think that the policies on body cameras can be challenging because you’re trying to balance privacy, you’re trying to balance the need to protect ongoing investigations, with providing as much transparency as possible,” Lynch said.

Lynch also said that there could be issues in incidents where an officer has to interview a witness, incidents that involve children, or a witness that is frightened by reprisals. But she also acknowledged that people can be frustrated when they cannot see the body camera footage right after it was shot, and she highlighted transparency again.

“My experience is that when people understand why that is the case, they can at least decide how they want to handle that case going forward,” Lynch said.

Lynch also discussed the protesters who were not pleased with the LAPD’s body camera decision.

“There are protesters outside,” Lynch said.  “I think that they are part of the great American tradition, which is the protest movement. But they raise issues that are of concern to all of us.  I think in particular that the protesters outside today are also a part of another important tradition, which is young people being involved in raising their voices. I think if we’re going to look at all of the problems and issues that law enforcement faces, they are a very important voice, and they have very important things to say.”

Mayor Garcetti discussed interacting with the community.

“The people, rightfully so, of Los Angeles and America, demand safe streets,” Garcetti said.  “They demand transparency and accountable policing.”

Garcetti said that Los Angeles has been at the forefront of the discussion on 21st century policing.

“We’ve changed in a way that has made our policing better, and we have also made our public safety fabric stronger,” Garcetti said.  “Something that you see from the games in Watts that uses officers as coaches to play with the youth in our housing development projects. Or whether it’s the work that we’ve done to make sure that we are the largest city in America to have every patrol officer to have a body camera.

“We’ve established an entirely new LAPD division focused just on that relationship based policing,” Garcetti continued.  “We’ve also assembled a clergy task force, that brings the faith community together, modeled on the work of places like the Watts Gang Task Force.”

Garcetti said that the LAPD has expanded its gang reduction and youth development programs by nearly 50 percent in terms of the territory covered, and that they partner with gang interventionist and gang preventionalist to stop violence before it happens.

Lynch wrapped up her Los Angeles visit in Playa Vista, taking part in a Facebook Live town hall from the social media site’s campus.

The event was moderated by “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” star Michael B. Jordan, with participation from actress Yara Shahidi of ABC’s “Black-ish.”