WASHINGTON — Criminal justice officials have been quietly considering the revival of a landmark national law enforcement commission to provide new direction on a range of controversial issues confronting police, including officers' use of deadly force that have prompted recent protests in Missouri and New York, a federal law enforcement official said Tuesday.
The Justice Department is leading the broad review that, in addition to deadly force, will examine law enforcement's increasing encounters with the mentally ill, the application of emerging technology such as body cameras and police agencies' expanding role in anti-terrorism efforts since 9/11, said the official who is not authorized to comment publicly.
By early next year, federal officials and others are expected to weigh the creation of a special law enforcement commission, similar to a panel created by President Johnson to deal with problems then associated with rising crime.
Rather than violent crime, which has been in decline in much of the country, police are now grappling with persistent incidents involving use of force and their responses to an array of public safety issues, from drug overdoses to their dealings with the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal authorities were opening an inquiry into last week's fatal shooting death of a Missouri teenager by local police. Separately, Justice has been monitoring a local New York investigation into a 43-year-old man's death after being subdued by local police last month.
Each of the incidents has sparked a volatile local reaction, with the most tense playing out in the suburbs of St. Louis where for two nights police have clashed with demonstrators protesting the death of Michael Brown who was fatally shot in an altercation with police.
"Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,'' Holder said this week, announcing the FBI's deployment to the Brown shooting death.
The recent call for a broader federal policy review, while not directly tied to any specific incident, grew out of a recent meeting involving law enforcement advocacy groups and Justice officials, including Holder, the official said.
"Nobody has looked at the profession in any holistic way in more than 50 years,'' the official said.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation's largest group of local law enforcement officials, has long advocated for the revival of the Johnson administration commission to provide needed direction to an institution whose responsibilities have expanded markedly in the past half century.
In 2010, then-IACP President Michael Carroll, while supporting a congressional push for such a panel, said police were "confronting a vast array of new challenges and demands that would have seemed unimaginable just a short time ago.'' Among those demands, he cited increasing police involvement in immigration matters, overburdened court systems and a "continuing need to ensure the protection of (citizens') civil rights and civil liberties.''
University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, who has written extensively on law enforcement matters, said a new commission could offer law enforcement "empirical evidence for a better way to do business.''
"There is no reason why we can't and shouldn't be able to learn from those who are doing things better to create the best practices for everybody,'' Harris said.