The eighth annual conference of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, held at NYU Law on April 8, examined the roles of prosecutors, police, and the community in use-of-force cases. Panelists considered topics including the role of the prosecutor in cases involving unarmed civilians and self-policing post-Ferguson. Two keynote speeches bookended the day: one from Vanita Gupta ’01, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the other from Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant to the president for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity at the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Vanita Gupta '01Under Gupta’s leadership, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has focused on advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform, including the release of a report on the investigation of Ferguson’s police department. “There’s an intense, passionate discussion taking place today about the use of force,” Gupta said. “From Ferguson to New York to Chicago to Baltimore, we can see that discussion between law enforcement and the communities they serve—as decades of mistrust have been ignited by high-profile incidents and crowds have taken to the streets.” 

Gupta emphasized the need to create fair police forces for all communities. “People want to trust the police,” Gupta said. “People need to trust the police. Decades of research show that fair and respectful treatment matters sometimes just as much as the ultimate result of one’s interaction with police.”

Roy Austin Jr.In his speech, Austin suggested that transparency in policing is one of the keys to creating accountable police forces across the country, citing the White House’s Police Data Initiative as an example of how the use of open data can increase community trust.  “Let’s put out publicly police activity: uses of force, complaints against officers, officer injuries…. Every police department should be doing this,” Austin said, adding that this practice would not only benefit the public, but would also save police departments from many Freedom of Information Act requests.

Above all, Austin stressed the importance of continuing the conversation about the use of force with openness to the perspectives of both the police departments and the communities they serve. “We have to be able to be critical of policing and not have everyone think that we’re anti-police, and we have to acknowledge at the same time that there’s some really violent crime that’s happening in our communities and not be anti-black or anti-brown. If we start the conversation from that place of honesty… we can truly take a step forward.”

Watch the full video of Vanita Gupta's keynote (51 min):

Watch the full video of Roy Austin Jr.'s keynote (39 min):

Posted May 6, 2016