WASHINGTON — The special policing task force appointed by the White House is expected to meet before President Obama's State of the Union address as additional officer-involved shootings, including fallout from the assassination of two NYPD officers in Brooklyn, have sparked added tension between police and civilians.
Two events — the shooting of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn, and the shooting death of 18-year-old Antonio Martin at a gas station in Berkeley, Mo., — made national headlines after Obama signed an Executive Order to create the Task Force on 21st Century Policing earlier this month.
The task force, which will examine "how to strengthen public trust and foster strong relationships between local law enforcement and the communities that they protect," follows tensions over police tactics and scrutiny of the use of military-grade equipment by local forces.
The recent events serve to sharpen the focus of the task force's goals, an official with knowledge of the proceeding told BuzzFeed News. The official said the NYPD shootings were "an incredible tragedy and reaction on both sides is a reflection on how emotional these issues are on both sides, but especially for the people who are concerned about the deaths of the two policemen."
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the task force, said one of the most effective steps the group will take will be looking at how officer-involved shootings are investigated, due to public distrust in how police handle those investigations. The key to strengthening relationships between the police and communities, the official said, is to examine policies and procedure and to create concrete dialogue between police and communities.
"We're going to be looking at what we can see in terms of solutions looking forward," the official said. "It's got to be a path forward that we build in a very constructive way."
The NYPD shootings have also underscored the importance of officer safety and the vital role it plays in criminal justice, the official said.
The official said, more broadly, changes in how police are trained in matters like de-escalation of conflict and dealing with the mentally ill are key factors in making sure that officers are safer on the streets.
Said the official, defending Holder's record on the safety police officers, "It's a balanced approach."