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WH Task Force: All police shootings should be independently reviewed

A White House Task Force charged with probing the deteriorated relationship between police and the communities they protect issued a report to President Obama on Monday that calls for independent investigations into all police shootings and to abolish all policing practices that rely on racial profiling.

"The moment is now for us to make these changes," Obama said during a meeting with task force members at the White House on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

"We have a great opportunity coming out of some great conflict and tragedy to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel — rather than being embattled — feel fully supported. We need to seize that opportunity."

The report, delivered just 90 days after President Obama commissioned the panel, also called for more body cameras on police officers -- but stopped short of suggesting the technology could be a silver bullet solution. It also suggest re-training for most officers and said that police departments must be more transparent.

"Trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential in a democracy," the task force wrote in the introduction to the report. "It is key to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing service."

The report comes as the Obama administration works to project a proactive push for policing and criminal justice reform in response to a series of police shootings last year that gained national notoriety -- including the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Included in the report were calls for a renewed focus on and funding for community policing programs, and for residency requirements that would ensure more officers live in the cities that they patrol.

The task force also called for better record keeping about police use of force incidents. Currently there are no reliable statistics about how often police use their weapons and what the circumstances of those cases are.

"There's no reason for us not to have this data available," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who was co-chair of the task force, during a phone call with reporters on Monday. "Now that we know that this does not exist, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to develop that information."

And the task force also drew more sweeping conclusions, calling for a more broad review of the entire criminal justice system and instructing law enforcement agencies to own up to the role they played in previous injustices.

"Law enforcement agencies should acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust," the task force wrote.

NYPD police commissioner William Bratton made similar comments during an event several weeks ago, noting that many of the injustices this country enacted on black Americans came through the complicity and enforcement of police officers.

Those historical injustices, in addition to more recent policy decisions have led to community distrust, police officials in several cities have said.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was one of several police officials to testify to that during one of the task force's hearings, in which he shared the results of a community study on trust in police.

"The review uncovered broken policies, outdated procedures, outmoded technology, and operating norms that put officers at odds with the community they are meant to serve," Batts told the task force. "It was clear that dramatic and dynamic change was needed."

The Obama administration came under criticism from all fronts last year for its response to Ferguson. Activists on the ground thought it did not do enough, policing groups took offense at comments Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder made, and some conservatives questioned why the president would weigh in at all.

The task force's work was closely watched, with many wondering aloud if policing groups would be willing participants and if the task force would focus on one or two sweeping suggestions. Instead, the task force report contains a litany of recommendations that cover many elements of policing and community relationships -- many of which national civil rights groups have pushed for for years.

“The majority of the recommendations in the report are ones that the ACLU has pushed for and stood behind for quite some time," said Kanya A. Bennett, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. "Most of the recommendations are essential and should be non-negotiable. For us to see meaningful change, local authorities must first implement data collection systems to improve transparency, use of force policies that emphasize de-escalation, eradicate all forms of biased policing, and improve community engagement and oversight to provide accountability.”

While the nation's largest policing groups have yet to weigh in, many police officials addressed the task force during its national tour.

"As police officers, it's critical that we recognize our own biases and make every attempt to set them aside when serving the public," said Tampa police chief Jane Castor when she testified before the task force last month. "The result will be twofold: Officers will develop positive relationships with citizens and they will be safer in their day-to-day activities."