Conference of police chiefs focuses on image, public trust

(SAN DIEGO, Calif.) -- With police departments across the nation roiled by corruption scandals, questions about racial profiling and use of deadly force, the world's largest organization of police leaders used much of its annual conference here to focus on restoring public faith.

At workshops, in speeches and meetings behind closed doors, leaders of the International Association of Chiefs of Police plotted ways to close what they consider a widening gap between officers and those they serve.

"The most sensitive issue we addressed this year is the issue of public trust," Michael Robinson, the group's former president, told some of the 15,000 police executives at the event that ended Wednesday.

"When we lose that confidence, we lose the moral right to protect the people. What happens is that the public reaction is to restrict our ability to protect them," he said.

The faltering public confidence is particularly frustrating because it comes even as police funnel more resources into training, violent crime rates are low and community-based policing is in vogue.

The organization in April asked presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush to support the creation of an independent, national panel to study the U.S. justice system.

Best known for spearheading national use of fingerprint identification and uniform crime reports, the association wants to see the commission ask tough, far-reaching questions, Robinson, superintendent of the Michigan State Police said in a later interview.

The panel would, for example, address questions about appropriate prison sentences, why there are more African-Americans in prison and on death rows, how quickly cases get through the courts and whose DNA authorities should sample, he said.

The study would be modeled after one conducted in 1965 at the request of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. That study took 18 months and recommended better officer training and pay. It also led to creation of the 911 emergency system.

Plano Police Chief Bruce Glasscock, sworn in Wednesday as the association's president, said the corruption investigation of renegade Los Angeles officers and the deadly shooting of an unarmed African immigrant by New York officers stoked the need for such an inquiry, but did not inspire it.

The association has a reputation as a progressive forum for police to exchange information and has conducted use of force studies and promoted civilian review boards, Glasscock said.

"This isn't reactionary. We're always trying to be sensitive to those issues. The call for the commission is raising that to another level," he said.

In closed meetings among police chiefs from the nation's largest cities, racial profiling was a lead topic.

With San Antonio considering joining the other major Texas cities in keeping statistics regarding the race of people stopped by police, those discussions were of special interest to Chief Al Philippus.

"I wanted to learn how other agencies are dealing with it and get a better understanding of the issue. I have a very, very good understanding of the issue now," Philippus said. "What I came away with is that there is no one, best model.

"But I am committed that we will institute some type of tracking system within the department, if nothing else, so that we can communicate to our community that we are accountable for our actions," he added.

In the lineup of about 70 workshops, there were other signs of the times. Washington, D.C., police talked about how to manage massive demonstrations like the one staged there this summer against the International Monetary Fund, which came on the heels of Seattle's chaotic World Trade Organization protests.

FBI Director Louis Freeh told the group Internet-related crime is the next great threat it faces.

"More and more we will have to integrate ourselves and take advantage of very scarce resources," he said.

(iSyndicate; San Antonio Express-News; Nov. 16, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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