By Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. police are being unfairly targeted in response to allegations of police brutality, leaders from three police organizations said at the first public meeting of U.S. President Barack Obama's policing task force on Tuesday.
In a tense back and forth, Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury told the task force that the media and public figures often rush to judgment against officers involved in fatal shootings rather than respecting due process.
He pointed to the federal response to the grand jury decision not to indict a white officer involved in the fatal shooting of a black unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, a decision that sparked violent protests.
Obama formed the task force of law enforcement officers, academics, and civil rights advocates in the wake of the grand jury decision and charged them to deliver a set of best practices within 90 days that local police departments could follow to build community trust and decrease the perception of a racial bias.
Canterbury said that when the legal process is not supported by elected leaders, “we invite an increase in violence which leads to events like the assassination of New York police officers," referring to the December shooting of two officers.
Since then, tensions have escalated in New York City between police and Mayor Bill de Blasio over his support of police critics following the use of a fatal chokehold on an unarmed black man. Work activity by the department has since declined.
Task force member Constance Rice said the testimony of the police organizations “sounded extremely combative.”
Rice, a civil rights attorney, asked whether they agreed that police would have to change their mindset if they were going to bond with communities of color.
International Association of Chiefs of Police President Richard Beary said he agreed but that strong community relations are hard to sustain when police are being asked to do more, such as respond to national security threats, with staffs that have been downsized by budget constraints. In Florida, where Beary works, the budget for training officers is only $67 per officer per year, he said.
Beary compared the recent treatment of local police in the United States to that of American troops returning from Vietnam in the 1970s following the controversial war.
“The entire criminal justice system needs to be looked at, but law enforcement is taking the brunt of it,” Beary said.
(Reporting By Julia Edwards; editing by Andrew Hay)