Thursday, February 26, 2015

Attorney General Eric Holder Calls for Police Body Cameras at Oakland Meeting

By Doug Oakley
OAKLAND -- Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated his call for local police to wear body cameras during a round-table discussion in downtown Oakland Thursday that brought local police chiefs and community advocates together to talk trust. 

After police shootings of African-Americans in Missouri, New York and Ohio triggered violent nationwide protests and spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, Holder started holding similar meetings across the country and has done so in Atlanta; Cleveland; Memphis, Tennessee; Chicago; and Philadelphia. 

"What has struck me in all these meetings is that people on both sides want the same things," said Holder, who mentioned that his brother is a retired police officer. "They want to be safe, they want their children to be safe, and they want to be treated in a fair way. Police officers want to be safe and be respected." 

The Oakland meeting was the last of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. Holder will step down from his post in a few weeks. 

Holder made public comments at the Oakland Federal Building, which included a call for an end to racial profiling, for about 10 minutes before closing the meeting to the press. 

In addition to local police chiefs like Oakland's Sean Whent and Berkeley's Michael Meehan, the meeting included Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel, Alicia Garza of Black Lives Matter, and representatives from East Oakland Youth Development Center and Youth UpRising were among the community leaders attending the round table. 

"Body cameras tend to reduce the number of complaints and are a very useful tool in trying to determine what was the nature of action between officers and someone in the community," Holder said. 

In the East Bay, the issue of police body cameras and race jumped to the front page Tuesday, when two Emeryville police officers shot and killed a female theft and carjacking suspect they say pointed a gun at them. 

Emeryville police took the unusual step of identifying the race and gender of the officers who shot the woman in a news release issued Wednesday. 

"One officer was female and the other officer was African-American," the statement said. It also said that one of the two police officers who shot the woman was wearing a body camera but turned it on only after the two fired their weapons. 

And in a statement the day before Holder's Oakland meeting, BART police Chief Kenton Rainey said local communities lost "confidence in our department following the Oscar Grant incident in 2009." Grant was shot in the back and killed by a BART police officer who said he mistook his gun for a Taser. 

Rainey said he understands "the anger and raw feelings; understanding the community's perspective is a key part of any equation with a healing solution." He said one of the most important aspects of his department overhaul was a "comprehensive body camera program." 

The body cameras, Rainey said, are "an opportunity to show how far we have come in our reform efforts and our commitment to constitutional policing principals." 

Schaaf said before the meeting that Oakland police have come a long way in instituting court-ordered reforms. 

"Oakland police have not shot anyone in two years," Schaaf said. "We need to make sure our reforms are permanent and substantial. But we have to do more to close the trust gap between government and the people we serve." 

Regina Jackson, president of East Oakland Youth Development Center, who participated in the discussion, said she directed her concerns to Haag about training for police in how to deal with those who are mentally ill. 

"I said I don't know if folks in public safety have any strategy to deal with people with mental illness," Jackson said. "People are already victimized by mental illness, and most of the time it's the illness and not willful disregard. That is something I'm really interested in having them take a look at." 

Jackson also said Oakland police need to "look more like the people in the community and be from the community" in order to do a better job at building trust. 

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said Oakland police are short-handed, and, in times of crisis, officers who work overtime are stressed out. 

When asked if that stress leads to mistakes, O'Malley said, "I think they are working a lot of hours." Nevertheless, she said "police need to do their jobs in a fair and respectful way." 

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