International Association of Chiefs of Police President Terrence M. Cunningham, speaking at a meeting of the group in San Diego, said the “history of the law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice …,” but the “history of policing has also had darker periods.”
“There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans,” said Cunningham.
The comments come at a time when activists and others have decried the shooting of unarmed black men at the hands of police. Protests have erupted in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago and elsewhere.
Police body cam videos and cell phone videos have captured some of these deaths, or the aftermath.
Cunningham, chief of police in Wellesley, Massachusetts, added: “While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. We must move forward together to build a shared understanding. We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities.”
The 123-year-old police chiefs organization has more than 23,000 members in 98 different countries. The organization released a copy of Cunningham’s remarks.
Cunningham said: “Those who denounce the police must also acknowledge that today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past. If either side in this debate fails to acknowledge these fundamental truths, we will be unlikely to move past them.”
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the FBI is building a national database as part of the Department of Justice’s efforts to gather nationwide data on interactions between law enforcement and civilians.
Comey touched on a theme he has pursued for more than a year: trying to get law enforcement to embrace the need to report statistics on officer-involved shootings.
Comey argued that better numbers would help the nation understand whether there is an epidemic of police killings of black men of if the advent of viral videos shared in social media is giving the impression there are more lethal confrontations between police and minorities.
“A small group of videos serve as an epidemic” Comey argued Sunday.
On Monday, the FBI chief tempered his earlier remarks. “I’m not trying to debunk anything, except to say I hope all of us want actual information about what’s going on, whatever that will show.”