Obama’s policing taskforce rolls into Ohio with focus on use of force and technology

US policing activists will sit alongside the subjects of their criticism this weekend, as part of a White House plan to ease relations between the two groups.

President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is scheduled to hold its second public session on Friday and Saturday in Cincinnati, Ohio. The 12-person taskforce is charged with presenting recommendations to the White House about how to improve relations between police and communities, including overcoming racial bias in policing. The group is travelling around the US in order to hear from experts.

Some experts, such as Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, think the US justice system is in a “national crisis”. Sitting alongside them will be members of that very system, defending their role after months of intense criticism of policing.

The first day of meetings was scheduled to look at the use of force and civilian oversight. On Saturday, panelists will discuss the relationship between police, body cameras and other technology, including social media.

Robinson was scheduled to speak at the Friday morning panel on use of force, joined by Mick McHale, president of police lobby the National Association of Police Organizations and an active-duty K-9 sergeant with the Sarasota police department.

McHale was invited to the panel to explain law enforcement’s perspective on the use of force, according to a copy of his testimony posted online ahead of the event.

In the testimony, he said force is not something officers want to be put in a position to use. He also says criticism of the police has made their jobs more dangerous.

“To frame this issue, it must be noted that another layer of risk has been added to an already dangerous job,” McHale wrote. “Individuals are increasingly willing to harm law enforcement officers.”

His recommendations include educating the community about police, having political leaders support grand jury decisions and encouraging citizens to take part in civilian-police interactions like patrol car ride-alongs.

Speakers on Friday were also set to discuss the lack of data on how use of force is implemented. Geoffery Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, said it was a “national embarrassment” that there was no clear use of force data in the US.

The need for such information is supported by Sam Cabral, president of the International Union of Police Associations, which represents more than 100,000 active-duty officers in the US, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“We do not see the need for ethnicity to be included in this collection but if it is, then it should be collected for those cases involving assaults on officers as well as the seven major crimes so as to provide an accurate background in the drawing of conclusions from the numbers alone,” Cabral wrote in his testimony.

Obama signed an executive order in December creating the taskforce as part of a set of measures to improve relations between police and the communities they serve. The order was driven by months of demonstrations in the US following police killings of unarmed people across the US, including in Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson has found itself the center of the latest flare in long-simmering racial tensions in the US. In August, an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson did not face a trial for the killing, as a grand jury chose not to indict him.

Harold Medlock is chief of police in Fayetteville, North Carolina. In his testimony, he writes that his small-town police department could have experienced a similar situation to the one in Ferguson. He said the incident there should be seen as a learning tool and prevention measure.

“Ferguson also set an unwelcomed tone for an incident that left the community feeling unheard,” Medlock said. “The community did not see the sympathy or empathy in police officers after the tragic event unfolded, but rather riot gear to prevent their voices from being heard.”