Congress

Justice Department Wants Better ‘Police-Community Relations’ Ahead of Ferguson Decision

Attorney General Eric Holder announced some guidelines for law-enforcement officers ahead of a big decision in the Michael Brown case.

Police confront demonstrators outside a police station on November 20, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
National Journal
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Kaveh Waddell
Nov. 21, 2014, 8:09 a.m.

The Justice De­part­ment has cre­ated a list of its ex­ist­ing guidelines for law en­force­ment ahead of a ma­jor de­cision in Fer­guson, Mo., that of­fi­cials be­lieve could res­ult in protests.

At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er says in a Fri­day video that his de­part­ment has com­piled its rules for “strong po­lice-com­munity re­la­tions” in­to a new doc­u­ment to “help law-en­force­ment of­ficers main­tain pub­lic safety while safe­guard­ing con­sti­tu­tion­al rights.” Watch it in full here:

The an­nounce­ment comes as a grand jury in Fer­guson de­lib­er­ates wheth­er to in­dict Fer­guson po­lice of­ficer Dar­ren Wilson in the Au­gust shoot­ing death of Mi­chael Brown. Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nix­on, an­ti­cip­at­ing po­ten­tial civil un­rest after the jury’s de­cision, de­clared a state of emer­gency on Monday and put the Na­tion­al Guard on standby.

Al­though the at­tor­ney gen­er­al does not men­tion Fer­guson by name in his an­nounce­ment, it seems clear that the re­lease of the doc­u­ment, which de­scribes how law en­force­ment should ap­proach “First Amend­ment-pro­tec­ted events,” was timed to co­in­cide with the po­ten­tial for re­newed demon­stra­tions there.

The doc­u­ment points law-en­force­ment of­ficers to on­line and in-per­son train­ing courses that fo­cus on eth­ics, pri­vacy laws, stress man­age­ment, and pro­ced­ur­al justice. It also links to art­icles and fact sheets about “man­aging large-scale se­cur­ity events” and how to ap­proach pub­lic safety on col­lege and uni­versity cam­puses.

But law en­force­ment is only part of the puzzle. In his an­nounce­ment, Hold­er also called on demon­strat­ors to ex­er­cise re­straint. “Peace­ful protest has been a hall­mark, and a leg­acy, of past move­ments for change,” Hold­er says in the video. “Amer­ic­ans ex­er­cising their First Amend­ment right to free as­sembly should look to those ex­amples as they work to bring about real and last­ing change for them­selves and for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

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