The Justice Department will help fight crime while it tries to strengthen the bonds between police and residents of six ethnically diverse cities, including Stockton, Calif., and Fort Worth, Texas, under a new program incited by the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo.
The selected cities will receive high-powered technical, research and training assistance designed to “enhance procedural justice, reduce bias and support reconciliation,” according to officials who rolled out the program’s details Thursday.
A $4.75 million federal grant will fund the effort for three years. By chance, it was unveiled about 13 hours after two police officers were shot and wounded during a late-night demonstration in Ferguson.
“Incidents like the one we have witnessed throw into sharp relief why conversations like the one we convened today, to build trust between law enforcement and community members, are so important,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.
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Formally dubbed the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, the program’s outlines were first announced last September after the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer prompted widespread demonstrations and broader scrutiny of frayed relations between civilians and law enforcement.
The selected cities range in population from Stockton’s 298,000 to Fort Worth’s 792,000. The other cities in the pilot program are Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Gary, Ind., and Birmingham, Ala.
“This study will be a valuable tool to open the discussion on equitable treatment in major cities,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a statement, calling the program “a tool to strengthen our partnership with the justice system and to continue building relationships in the community.”
Crime afflicts each selected city, though to varying degrees. Stockton recorded 1,548 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Fort Worth recorded 587 violent crimes per 100,000 residents that same year.
“We do rank quite high, especially in the area of violent crime,” Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones acknowledged in an interview Thursday, “but we see the violent crime rate dropping.”
Like Ferguson, the cities selected for the new Justice Department program have significant ethnic minority populations.
Forty percent of Stockton’s residents are Hispanic, 21 percent are Asian and 12 percent are African-American. In Fort Worth, 19 percent are African-American and 34 percent are Hispanic.
“African-Americans and Latinos have a sense of distrust about law enforcement,” John Ervin III, founder of a Modesto, Calif.-based teen mentoring program called Project UPLIFT, said in an interview Thursday, adding that the Justice Department program could help “as long as it’s a joint effort between law enforcement and the community.”
Underscoring the heightened attention being paid to the issue, Ervin and other Northern San Joaquin Valley community leaders will participate in an all-day American Leadership Forum conference about community relations with law enforcement Sunday at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
Jones said Justice Department officials “reached out” to the Stockton department to consider participating in the national initiative; in part, he said, because local officials already have tried innovations such as data-driven policing. One existing program, called Operation Ceasefire, uses data analysis to target gangs and violent youths.
Fort Worth Police Chief Rhonda Robertson said in a statement that her department was “honored” to be selected.
“Upon learning about the project, we immediately realized the opportunity it would present to strengthen our existing community partnerships and to develop new relationships built upon trust within the community,” Robertson said.
A consortium with representatives from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Yale Law School, the Center for Policing Equity at UCLA and the Urban Institute will help oversee the work.
“We’re talking about the leading experts (and) brightest minds in law enforcement,” Jones said, adding that “we’ve been searching for research partners to help us.”
Holder’s personal announcement of the program’s details likely will be among his last official acts as attorney general. The Senate next week is scheduled to begin debating the confirmation of his replacement, Brooklyn, N.Y.,-based U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. Despite the entrenched opposition of most Republicans, Lynch appears to have the support necessary for a narrow victory.