President Obama is expected to sign an executive order today creating a new task force on policing and community relations that will deliver by early March recommendations on how to improve trust between police officers and communities — specifically minority communities.
As had been previously announced, the task force will be led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, a former assistant attorney general who is now a professor of criminology, law and society at George Mason University.
The task force, as well as a speaking tour by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., are the most visible aspects of the Obama administration's response to tensions between minority communities and law enforcement that hit a breaking point in August when Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer.
Administration officials have stressed the role that young adults -- who have been the driving force behind many of the protests that have sprung up in Ferguson and elsewhere -- will play in the task force. Among those appointed to the task force is Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis. She has been heavily involved in the planning and coordination of the Ferguson protest.
Packnett -- also a member of the Ferguson Commission, which was created by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) in response to the unrest -- has twice been among Ferguson-area residents and protesters who have been called to the White House for meetings with Obama and other administration officials.
Also on the president's task force is Jose Lopez, a 27-year-old organizer with the Brooklyn-based civil rights group Make the Road.
"(Obama) was very struck by his meeting with them in the Oval Office and their passion and determination and conviction," Jarrett said of a Dec. 1 meeting with youth leaders from Ferguson and elsewhere. "Making sure that their ideas were represented at the table was important to him."
Other members of the 11-person task force are: Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; Susan Rahr, a former sheriff who is executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission; Tracey Meares, a professor at Yale law school; Constance Rice, co-founder of the national civil rights group the Advancement Project; Roberto Villasenor, the chief of the Tucson Police Department; Sean Smoot, the director and chief counsel for the Police Benevolent & Protect Association of Illinois; and Cedric Alexander, the national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
Skeptics have wondered whether the presidential task force and the Missouri commission will have any real impact without the ability to implement procedural and policy changes. Administration officials stressed Thursday that the task force will not be a silver bullet rather a productive step.
"We all recognize that these problems will not be solved swiftly and we can’t prevent every controversial case from happening," said Ron Davis, director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services Office, who will serve as the task force's executive director. He later that the task force members, including members of law enforcement, are eager to get to work.
"The focus is on them, and they understand that there is a lack of trust and understand why," Davis said.