Official: Better data would help relations between the police and community

Better understanding and more data can help in improving relations between police and the residents they serve, according to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Blumenthal, a first-term Democrat, has sponsored a bill on the federal level that would require all police and law enforcement agencies to report deaths that occur in law enforcement custody.

“There is, right now, no requirement that those deaths be reported. So many police departments across the country simply don’t report those deaths to any central point,” said Blumenthal, noting that deaths in prison are also largely unreported.

Blumenthal recently met with Hersam Acorn editors and reporters at the company's office in Shelton, discussing a wide range of issues during an interview.

The Ferguson situation

Distrust of police officers in some communities heated up in 2014 with unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City following the deaths of black men during interactions with police.

Frustration over the perception of excessive use of force by officers dealing with African-Americans boiled over last fall following a grand jury’s decision not to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August.

While Wilson claimed he was defending himself, angry residents felt Wilson went too far in shooting an unarmed man. The lack of criminal charges sparked protests and riots in and around Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of St. Louis with a mostly white police force.

The U.S. Justice Department recently announced Wilson would not be prosecuted on the federal level, but also released a report that found discriminatory practices by the Ferguson Police Department.

FBI director points to ‘disconnect’

During a recent presentation in Washington, FBI Director James Comey said that there is a “disconnect” between police and residents, predominantly in communities of color.

Comey also said that some officers scrutinize black people more closely and take “a mental shortcut” based on working in communities where a disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by black men.

Officers must redouble their efforts to resist bias and prejudice, better understand the people they protect, and “resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism,” the FBI director said.

Comey added that police and the people they serve should try to see and understand each other.

‘Excellent starting point’

Comey’s comments are “an excellent starting point” in re-thinking the issues of distrust, according to Blumenthal, a former long-serving state attorney general in Connecticut.

“I thought that his speech was insightful because it recognized the attitudes that each of us bring to our [lives] and our job based on our past experience and the need to understand individual experiences,” he said. “Connecticut is a place where some progress can be made.”

Blumenthal said he plans to talk with Comey and Loretta Lynch, who is expected to be the next U.S. attorney general, about these matters.

Blumenthal did not elaborate on any proposals, but said, “I think this a topic we need to discuss openly.”

Melvin Mason is editor of The Stratford Star, another Hersam Acorn newspaper and website.