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Crisis in law enforcement Urban league proposal: A model code of police conduct.


IN THE AFTERMATH of the Million Man March, aides to President Clinton said he would consider holding a White House conference, with a blue ribbon commission, to study the current state of race relations in the nation. He is said to be wary of the idea, however, because of the broadness of its approach and the political dangers associated with trying to deal with poverty, housing, education, family breakdown, drugs and all the other problems of the black urban poor all at once.

A narrower approach -- focused on law enforcement -- would avoid many of the political pitfalls and could go a long way toward improving police performance and police-community relations. Such an approach was suggested by Hugh Price of the Urban League. His organization would like to see a "model code" for police come out of such a conference.

That there is a crisis of confidence in many big city police departments is indisputable. Some say the crisis is only one of perception, not of the departments themselves. That is, the Mark Fuhrmans are rare. Even if that is true, law enforcement relies heavily on public support. Police departments need to be perceived as concerned, competent and fair.

That is especially true in situations where largely white police forces interact with largely black criminals and their black victims on a daily basis. Those who believe race relations in the country are bad and getting worse usually point to problems involving bad community relations in cities like Los Angeles. Historically, destructive urban riots have been ignited by police-related incidents.

A blue ribbon White House commission ought to take a good, hard look at law enforcement in this country. We suspect it would find officers and agents do more good than they get credit for and not as much bad as they are accused of. But the more the former can be demonstrated and the more the latter can be reduced, the better for everyone.

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