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Building Trust Between Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve and Protect

Attorney General Eric Holder visits the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club, where he spoke with a small group of local teenagers and a number of courageous police officers and academy recruits from the San Francisco Police Department.

Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Justice's blog. See the original post here.

Over the last several months, I have been fortunate to travel across the country to convene a series of roundtable discussions aimed at strengthening and fostering enduring relationships between America’s brave law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

These discussions have brought together diverse groups of local leaders, police officials, civil rights advocates, United States Attorneys, students, faith leaders, and community members to examine what we can do to restore trust wherever it has been eroded – and to build trust in places where it never existed. The resulting conversations – in Atlanta, Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia – have been challenging, enlightening, and often deeply moving. And each has been vitally important in enabling the Justice Department to take this important, national dialogue to a new level.

I recently continued this effort in Oakland and San Francisco, California. In Oakland, I was proud to join a group of over 50 leaders and engaged citizens in an inclusive conversation about the challenges they’ve faced throughout the metropolitan area, as well as the promising work that’s underway to address those challenges. In San Francisco, I had the privilege of visiting the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club, where I spoke with a small group of local teenagers and a number of courageous police officers and academy recruits from the San Francisco Police Department.

Attorney General Eric Holder at the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club in San Francisco, CA

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with students and police officers on building community trust at the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club in San Francisco, CA.

Over the course of these constructive conversations – and all of the others I’ve convened – I have been struck not by some of the divisions that have emerged, but by the remarkable commonalities. I have been moved to hear from valorous police officers, who risk their lives every day to secure their communities, as well as parents who express very real concern about the safety of their children.

In every one of these roundtables, as passionate, engaged people have come together to advance a positive dialogue and confront lingering mistrust, it has been clear that citizens of all perspectives are bound together not only by common values, but common aims: safer streets, stronger communities, and enhanced protections for all. That’s why the Justice Department is continuing to fulfill these aims not only with discussion, but with sustained and deliberate action.

Through our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and other components, the Department is making good on its pledge to provide law enforcement with access to the tools and support they need to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible. With the launch of our National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, we’re striving to strengthen the partnerships between community members and law enforcement professionals at every level of government.

At the same time, at President Obama’s direction, the Administration is taking a range of steps to improve the way we equip our law enforcement agencies, to invest in body-worn cameras and cutting-edge training, and to better facilitate broad-based community engagement. Through the President’s groundbreaking Task Force on 21st Century Policing, we’re bringing law enforcement leaders and experts together to provide strong, national direction on a scale not seen in nearly half a century. And going forward, we intend to continue to use every tool at our disposal to enhance our capacity to combat crime while restoring public trust.

I strongly believe that, by engaging in forthright and action-oriented discussions, we can make real and effective progress in advancing the cause of justice in communities across the country. Although my time in the Obama Administration will soon draw to a close, my personal commitment to this work will remain steadfast. Thanks to everything I’ve heard from the remarkable citizens and police officers I’ve met in recent weeks, I am confident in where this vital work will lead us. And I’m optimistic about the transformative results that we will achieve together in the days ahead.