On February 12, 2014, FBI Director James Comey called for legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to report police-involved shootings during a speech at Georgetown University. Addressing growing public demand for transparency regarding the use of force by law enforcement officers, Director Comey added, “Without complete and accurate data, we are left with ideological thunderbolts.” He then challenged law enforcement officers and members of the communities they serve to end the self-perpetuating cycle of attacks against each other and to talk to each other. More importantly, Director Comey encouraged both sides to listen to each other, stating, “It’s hard to hate up close.”
While Attorney General Eric Holder has been harshly criticized by the law enforcement community for his statements regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Director Comey’s statements have been generally well-received by law enforcement officials as well as many community leaders, who commend the Director for inviting both sides to join in an honest conversation about race and injustice.
One commenter stated, “It is time to act on his vision and to have race conversations and justice conversations and keep having them, until injustice anywhere is no longer a threat to justice everywhere.”
In 2011, the Department of Justice launched the Collaborative Reform Initiative, which encourages municipalities to enter into cooperative agreements with the Department. The Department then assigns Technical Advisors to review use of force policies and procedures and make recommendations for improvement. Reviews conducted pursuant to the initiative are paid for with federal grant funds and include reviews of use of force investigations, observations of police training and enforcement activity, and interviews of community stakeholders in order to develop use of force policies that are embraced by the community. The initiative provides communities an opportunity to collectively look internally and assess whether it is time to reevaluate accepted attitudes and practices.
In his closing remarks Director Comey quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, who said, “We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.” It is time to choose.