Members of Congress discuss police-community relations in Detroit

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published September 7, 2016

 U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, addresses members of the press Aug. 30 to explain what the congressional group had discussed during its two-day roundtable.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, addresses members of the press Aug. 30 to explain what the congressional group had discussed during its two-day roundtable.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

DETROIT — Several members of the bipartisan Policing Strategies Working Group traveled to Detroit Aug. 29 and 30 to meet with local community leaders and law enforcement to discuss police accountability, aggression toward law enforcement and public safety concerns related to these issues.

The congressional delegation spent two days meeting with local representatives and officials and discussed ways of bringing law enforcement and communities together in the wake of several high-profile cases in which law enforcement officers have been accused of brutality, particularly toward African-Americans.

Those attending as part of the 12-member group of U.S. representatives included House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; John Conyers, D-Mich.; Doug Collins, R-Ga.; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas; David Reichert, R-Wa.; Cedric Richmond, D-La.; Robin Kelly, D-Ill.; and Keith Ellison, D-Minn. They met with community leaders including Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

“During the last two days, we’ve discussed ways to strengthen the connection between the community and the law enforcement officials who police them,” said Goodlatte. “It has been great to hear from our roundtable members about how they are addressing the things driving wedges between law enforcement and residents. There is much to do, but I’m confident we can find solutions.”

Among the loudest voices in Congress calling for change is Conyers, who represents Michigan’s 13th Congressional District.

“Over the last few years, we have seen senseless acts of violence have taken the lives of both civilians and law enforcement,” said Conyers. “I spent my August district work period talking with mayors and law enforcement in this district, talking about how to keep more of this from happening.”

The group was careful to stress that they want to make law enforcement agencies better able to do their jobs, not cast them as the enemy. After their roundtable discussions, many in the group believe one of the primary ways to address police violence is to provide better funding for law enforcement agencies so they may better train and screen potential officers, as well as put more officers on the street so those on patrol are more in touch with their communities.

“In times of danger, you are calling 911 for help. The community wants policing and we want safe communities, but we also need to address the issues that have been raised, and these matters are, I think, the most important civil rights issue of our time,” said Jackson Lee. “We need to open our hearts and minds to accept police, but also address the underlying racism that has cast black males as criminals.”

Among the ways Congress may be looking to make changes at a national level is the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, which was sponsored by Conyers. Supporters say the bill would require the Department of Justice to analyze existing law enforcement accreditation standards, recommend additional areas for the development of national standards, recommend the adoption of additional standards, and adopt policies and procedures to encourage accreditation of law enforcement agencies.

The group also suggested that departments implement policies that would require psychological exams when hiring officers, looking at potential officers’ values and track records, not hiring officers fired from other departments, and providing further education of officers during training. Several members of the committee lauded Detroit for taking steps to reach out to the community, implement the use of body cameras on police officers, and proactively try to address issues that could create friction between law enforcement and the public.

The members of the group said they are optimistic that measures can be made in Washington, D.C., due to the overwhelming call from the voting public for changes to be made. All agreed that something has to be done to change the status quo. Kelly said failing to do so would lead only to “total chaos and distrust.”

“It’s a complex problem and there’s not one answer, because there wasn’t one cause,” Kelly said. “We are losing a generation to gun violence and it must be addressed.”