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Obama Task Force Recommends Array of Measures to Curb Warrior Mindset Among Police

A task force on policing setup by President Barack Obama issued its report and a number of the recommendations appear to be geared toward reducing the warrior mindset adopted by officers in police departments throughout the United States.

Obama appointed a task force to review police practices in December after demonstrations against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, spread throughout the nation. It was his administration’s attempt to tamp down some of the outrage toward police and channel it into some kind of constructive change in government policies, despite the reality that police who killed unarmed black men were still escaping prosecution.

Charles Ramsey, former Philadelphia police commissioner and chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, and former assistant attorney general Laurie Robinson chaired the task force. The task force heard from law enforcement, community activists and young people when they were conducting the review.

The task force report [PDF] recommends that law enforcement take multiple noteworthy actions, which have led multiple media organizations to report that this is Obama’s push to demilitarize police departments.

Police are urged to develop procedures for responses to “mass demonstrations that prioritize de-escalation and a guardian mindset.” The federal government is urged to “create a mechanism” to investigate complaints and issue sanctions when equipment and tactics are “inappropriately” used during “mass demonstrations.”

Remarkably, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) and the US government just reached a $2.2. million settlement that includes reforms, which the US Park Police will follow when handling demonstrations.

The settlement stems from an incident on September 27, 2022, where nearly 400 protesters, tourists, bystanders, legal observers and passers-by” were arrested, according to PCJF. DC Metropolitan Police and the US Park Police “encircled Pershing Park, refused to let anyone leave, and then mass arrested everyone who happened to be present and trapped by law enforcement in the park. Many were held bound wrist to ankle in stress-and-duress positions on a police gym floor for upwards of 24 hours.” (Charles Ramsey, who chaired the task force, was in command.)

Police adopted policies to prohibit “the use of police lines to encircle protesters and demonstrations.” Officers must have “probable cause” for a protester to be arrested. At least three warnings to disperse must be given prior to “any lawful arrests.” They are not to engage in “group sweeps” anymore. Exits for protesters should be identified by police so that protesters can comply with dispersal orders if they do not want to be arrested. Warnings to disperse must be at least two minutes apart and “audible throughout the crowd.”

These policies are very similar to the policies for “mass demonstrations” recommended by the task force.

Professor Edward Maguire, who is in the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology at American University, submitted written testimony, “When officers line up in a military formation while wearing full protective gear, their visual appearance may have a dramatic influence on how the crowd perceives them and how the event ends.” His statement was incorporated into the task force report along with a recommendation to “remove riot gear as soon as practical.”

The federal government will no longer provide “armored vehicles that run on a tracked system instead of wheels, weaponized aircraft or vehicles, firearms or ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, grenade launchers, bayonets or camouflage uniforms,” according to the Chicago Tribune.” It will, however, permit the continued use of armored “Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets, and shields”—but with more controls.

The task force recommends that police “embrace a culture of transparency.” Department polices should be public and departments should “regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime, and other law enforcement data aggregated by demographics.”

In line with that, the Obama administration launched a police data initiative. Twenty-one police departments have agreed to be involved to release data on “uses of force, police pedestrian and vehicle stops, officer involved shootings and more.”

The task force recommends civilian oversight of law enforcement, whether through police boards or commissions, be adopted if such a mechanism does not exist in a community already.

Other positive recommendations include suggesting communities develop “community-based” or “school-based” programs to “mitigate punitive and authoritarian solutions to teen problems.” Police are encouraged to work to develop “school discipline policies” that prohibit “corporal punishment and electronic control devices.”

Law enforcement is urged to “cease using the possession of condoms as the sole evidence of vice” when dealing with any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person. It seems to be a measure clearly directed at the criminalization of people who police may claim appeared to be sex workers or “prostitutes.”

The further recommends that law enforcement engage the public and collaborate with a community prior to developing a policy for a new technology, something police departments and the federal government avoided when using Stingray technology for warrantless surveillance.

Those who have watched countless videos of officers being asked to identify themselves and provide their badge numbers will appreciate that task force recommended officers be required to provide their full name, rank and command “in writing” to any individuals they stop. They are encouraged to require officers to “state the reason for the stop and the reason for the search if one is conducted.” The report even recommends that officers “carry business cards” to provide to individuals during encounters so they could file complaints.

Now, there are a few parts of the report that should raise concern.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy is lauded for his training of police and his planning in advance of the 2012 NATO Summit “at the height of the ‘Occupy’ movement.” What is omitted is how Chicago police transformed the city into a climate of repression that included a sting operation against activists the city deemed potentially dangerous. (The “NATO 3” were arrested and faced state terrorism charges for allegedly plotting violent attacks with Molotov cocktails against police. But the only plots they had were the ones they were being induced by undercover police to commit.)

Aware of the massive surveillance state that exists today, it is bothersome that the Justice Department and Police Data Initiative will “identify opportunities to help police departments maximize the value of the thousands of hours of video body worn cameras will produce.” It is not defined what this “value” might be and seems like the kind of action that might lead to privacy violations. Police should not be making use of leftover footage, which they aren’t sure at the moment will help them.

What effect will any of these recommendations have on departments collecting and storing data through the use of Stingray surveillance, which is largely shielded from any public accountability?

Finally, the recommendations stem from a supposed commitment to “building trust” between citizens and police, which is supremely flawed.

Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said it best when Obama first started to talk about “mistrust” between police and citizens:

Black men are not dying at the hands of (mostly) white cops – nor are those cops being excused from legal responsibility – because of mutual distrust between black and brown people and law enforcement agencies. To suggest so simply, and perhaps deliberately, mistakes the symptom for the disease.

Trust, or lack thereof, is based on lived experience, and it is the actions of law enforcement in communities of color that has eroded black and brown Americans’ trust. To present the situation as mutual distrust not only obscures the specific causes of that distrust – it intimates that everyone is equally responsible for the problem. The call for “conversation” as the solution then reinforces this idea that the legitimate problems with law enforcement vocalized by minority communities are really all just one big misunderstanding.

Our political leaders should not begin to offer solutions for a problem if they won’t even name it: systemic, institutional racism exists in police forces throughout our country.

These recommendations are just that—recommendations. Some of them are very good. The police data initiative could provide a lot of information that reveals the inner workings of police departments and makes it easier for citizens to push to end policies that make it easy for officers to torment their communities. However, cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and others with police forces, which desperately need real oversight, are not participating in the police data initiative.

Maybe there will be some demilitarization. Maybe there will be a shift toward more community policing. But it is highly unlikely that the institutional racism underpinning the culture of policing, which promotes the warrior mindset, changes significantly with these reforms.

The recommendations are only as good as they are because a movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, has been pushing to shift the consciousness of people in this country for about nine months. More changes will come as the Black Lives Matter movement and other social movements continue to make it harder for police to defend officers who engage in brutality and terrorize communities.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

  • bsbafflesbrains

    It’s 1% versus the 99% and the police are part of the 99% but have been conditioned to believe protestors are militants, insurgents even instead of Citizens with rights protected by the Law. Police have been dummed down and militarized by the 1% who recognize them as the Very Thin Blue Line protecting the status quo. We need the 99% to embrace the police as protectors of Constitutional rights first and keeping traffic flowing so Baldwin can get to his pilates class second. During OWS it was mostly the white shirted management police that abused the protestors. Average cop has the same problems of the average working stiff so I wonder how the 1% worry about the next phase of implementing austerity.

  • jo6pac

    The part I love the most of 0 task force thingies is it will do just the opposite. There was that task force on SS and we all know who will benefit from that. Then there that transparence thing but I can’t see do to the smoke put out by the wh. Then there how to win friends in the world, yep bomb them into dust. Then, will you all get the idea.

    bsbafflesbrains Nailed it but the elite will spend there money making sure rank and file stay in line also.
    Thanks Kevin

  • kgosztola

    Whatever the outcome may be, the recommendations are testament to the success of the uprising in this country against police brutality (so far).

  • Screwtape

    Warrior mindset among police is worth pursuing, and likely the most pressing now; however, it doesn’t stop there.

    The mindset hinges on an organizational, lemming like commitment which does not easily tolerate any deviation driven by ethics, mores, etc., whenever the consequence might interfere with some larger task at hand. It’s rude to bring up such foibles of human nature, and how we are at risk that way.

    So, aside from police, the subject would certainly ensnare the military, notwithstanding, or even a civilian’s innocent membership in any advocacy-oriented political cause. Or even, at the ridiculous level, individual consumer commitment to this or that corp logo when making a purchase.

  • Shutter

    “recommendations..”, “urged”, “encouraged”… my god, haven’t we learned anything? These are just bullshit stall words meant to delude the rabble and reassure the PTB.

    The game is on and rapid-response containment of the nascent upswelling of resistance is being acted out for all to see here. At the tail end of a highly successful (for everyone else but thee and me) presidency, the bungler-in-chief is down to play-acting his lame duck role. Nothing will come of all this and even if they fuck up and manage to implement any limits on the Guardians before Obama is drop-kicked into the upper income brackets he so lusts after, the next sitting Enforcer for the 1% will simply roll back the changes.

  • http://mosquitocloud.net/ aprescoup

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that.

    “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm

    And we can see some of it transpiring on the TPP front, right before our eyes:

    Acknowledgement and accommodation of public dissatisfaction: fast track voted down.
    24 hours later bullshit patches deemed sufficient to continue: fast track back on line.
    Currently the (worthless)quid pro (same shit)quo kabuki lays another potential golden egg for the 1%:

    Senate Democrats Work with Republicans to Throw Medicare Under the Bus as Part of TPP Fast Track Sausage-Makinghttp://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/05/senate-democrats-work-with-republicans-throw-medicare-under-the-bus-part-tpp-fast-track-sausage-making.html

    Getting screwed by the vital center, coming and going, ADSOS(another day, same old shit.)

  • Istherenonamethatdoesntexist

    Waco PD arrested over 170 in one incident. Not too bad.

  • kgosztola

    I don’t know what any of that has to do with the impact the Black Lives Matter movement is having in this country.

  • http://mosquitocloud.net/ aprescoup

    What impact are you referring to, on this Malcolm Little b-day?

    Do you really believe that this militarized colonialist state will un-occupy the black communitiesghettos? That they will depart Africa?

    Democrats will trot out some of their black mis-leaders, feign outrage and indignation and slap on some rhetorical band-aids in a GOTV effort for Hillary, and that will be that… The new Jim Crow will go away only if all of the public mobilizes against the system of disproportionate black incarceration, of general economic repression and of the abject inequality; economic and under the color of law, which capitalism engenders.