xml:space="preserve">

Recent riots in Baltimore revealed a tattered and torn trust between the police and the community they are sworn to protect and serve. Though the images we watched flashing across our screens in wall-to-wall news coverage last April were of Baltimore, my hometown is not unique in these challenges. It easily could have been any of America's hometowns.

President Barack Obama has been responsive and resolute in mobilizing his cabinet to address long-term systemic issues — unemployment, inadequate schools, lack of access to health care and child care — many cities face. But we also need to move now to restore faith in the practices and procedures of law enforcement in our communities.

Advertisement

This is an opportunity to bring about national reform that can also apply to Baltimore locally. As the vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science that both funds and provides oversight of the Department of Justice (DOJ), I have identified targeted resources and targeted reforms to restore the sense of trust between the community and the police department.

Our first principle in writing the fiscal year 2016 DOJ funding bill was do no harm, so we continue to fund grants for local police to put more cops on the street through COPS Office Hiring and to buy equipment like officer radios and bulletproof vests through Byrne Justice Assistance.

But this year, at my request, we included three targeted criminal justice reforms.

For the first time, the bill requires local law enforcement to submit officer training information to the Justice Department when applying for grants. Police departments will be asked to report how their officers are trained in the use of force, identifying racial and ethnic bias, de-escalating conflicts and engaging with the public. This is important because the public deserves to know how their local law enforcement is or is not trained. And the more we know, the better we can use our limited federal resources to help fill training gaps.

Second, the bill encourages local law enforcement to provide detailed crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) so we know how and where police shootings occur. Reliable, comprehensive data will create a better understanding about the scope of the problem and raise accountability for shootings.

Many local law enforcement agencies currently provide the FBI with these crime statistics voluntarily. The FBI then compiles and releases the data to help local governments combat crime. But far too often, local departments don't have the right IT infrastructure to transmit data to the FBI.

That's why the third reform requires the DOJ to come up with an action plan to help states upgrade their IT systems so all local departments can submit critical crime information. Full participation in data collection by all the states will help police everywhere fight crime.

These reforms are not hollow promises. This bill backs them up with targeted resources to strengthen police-community relations. At my request, it includes $98 million to directly improve police-community relations, including funding for body cameras and officer training in addressing racial and ethnic bias.

Beyond policing, we must do more for the young people in our communities. I've included $295 million in funds for juvenile justice programs. This will provide mentoring to help those who are on the right track stay there. It funds delinquency prevention for those who want help getting back on track. And it pays for teen courts and detention alternatives to keep those who have fallen off track from sinking too deeply into the justice system.

I believe these targeted reforms and targeted resources will protect the rights of the community while also protecting the rights of our police officers. The vast majority of the men and women who work every day on the front lines of our justice system do it to ensure the safety and security of their communities. But where and when we fall short, and when tensions erupt between the police and those they protect, we can and must find ways to do better.

Our government, the private sector, community and faith-based leaders need to keep working together to provide opportunities for young people. Every dollar we spend to restore trust and make our streets safer is a dollar well spent.

Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat, is Maryland's senior U.S. senator; she can be reached at communications@mikulski.senate.gov.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement