Law-enforcement officials, NJ community groups focus on rebuilding trust

 Vinita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, gives the keynote speech at a police-community relations summit in Trenton Wednesday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Vinita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, gives the keynote speech at a police-community relations summit in Trenton Wednesday. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Hoping to improve police-community relations, law enforcement and community groups in New Jersey gathered for a summit in Trenton Wednesday to discuss strategies.

 

Acting Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri said residents in many towns have lost faith in the police and there’s breakdown in community-police communication.

“Today police officers face the very real possibility of being the target of violence simply because they wear a badge,” he said. “Make no mistake, there are bad apples in every profession … but by and large police officers are committed to the communities that they serve.”

The public has the right to expect that police are trustworthy, said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

“When officers don’t follow the rules, they undermine the confidence that citizens should have in their police,” he said. “And that makes the job so much harder for the rest of the well-intentioned cops who chose their careers because they want to make a difference in the life of their communities.”

Agreements with some communities around the nation to correct unconstitutional police practices can serve as blueprints for reform to help rebuild trust, said Vanita Gupta,  the top civil rights prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department.

“Structured community engagement is vital. Improper bias, both explicit and implicit, must be identified and corrected,” she said. “Training, of course, is key, and there’s been a lot of ground-breaking and innovative research in training and on de-escalation that is changing use-of-force norms right now.”

Consistent internal systems of accountability would help police departments make corrections when problems are identified, Gupta said.

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