By NEDRA PICKLER
Special to South Florida Times
WASHINGTON (AP) —President Barack Obama said Monday he wants to ensure the U.S. isn’t building a “militarized culture” within police departments, while maintaining federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment that were used to dispel racially charged protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
Instead, the president is asking Congress for funding to buy 50,000 body cameras to record events like the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown and look for ways to build trust and confidence between police and minority communities nationwide. He announced the creation of a task force to study success stories and recommend ways the government can support accountability, transparency and trust in police.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday new Justice Department plans aimed at ending racial profiling and ensuring fair and effective policing.
“In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement, which will institute rigorous new standards – and robust safeguards – to help end racial profiling, once and for all,” Holder said in Atlanta.
With protests ongoing in Ferguson and across the country, Obama spoke to reporters at the end of a White House meeting with police, civil rights activists and local leaders and acknowledged the participants told him that there have been task forces in the past and “nothing happens.”
“Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different,” Obama said. He said he was upset to hear the young people in the meeting describe their experiences with police. “It violates my belief in what America can be to hear young people feeling marginalized and distrustful even after they’ve done everything right.”
At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of the uproar over a grand jury’s decision not to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot Brown. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations that could result in federal charges, but investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof. Justice also has launched a broad investigation into the Ferguson Police Department.
Obama is proposing a three-year, $263 million spending package to increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement and add more resources for police department reform. The package includes $75 million to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost. Estimates vary about the precise number of full-time, sworn law enforcement officers in communities across the U.S., though some federal government reports in recent years have placed the figure at roughly 700,000.