White House task force urges closer scrutiny of police

By Julia Edwards and Lindsay Dunsmuir

By Julia Edwards and Lindsay Dunsmuir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A White House-commissioned task force recommended independent outside investigations of police use of deadly force on Monday, in a report following the fatal shooting by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri of an unarmed black teenager.

The task force recommendation, coupled with a call for police departments to submit data to the federal government on officer-involved shootings of civilians, was made in a review of policing practices across the United States.

It was prompted by what President Barack Obama has described as "simmering distrust" between police and communities they serve.

Other recommendations were that police should report on the racial demographics of their departments and the citizens they stop, in addition to establishing civilian oversight committees and seeking consent before conducting searches.

Obama charged the group of law enforcement officials, academics and advocates with evaluating policing after nationwide demonstrations protesting a grand jury's decision not to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for last summer's fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

The Justice Department's investigations into Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department are expected to conclude soon. A separate report on that could come as soon as this week, the New York Times reported on Monday.

It will criticize police in Ferguson for unfairly targeting black residents with tickets and arrests, the Times said. It added that the upcoming report could lead to a civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson police unless officials are able to reach a settlement with the Justice Department.

The killing in Ferguson sparked outrage and sometimes violent protests in the St. Louis suburb. A national debate over the issue of race and police intensified after a New York City grand jury decided not to charge a white police officer for his role in the death of unarmed black man after he was placed in a chokehold.

In a meeting with members of the task force on Monday, Obama encouraged local officials to implement the guidelines.

"We have a great opportunity coming out of some great conflict and tragedy to really transform how we think about community-law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer,” Obama said.

He also said he would ask the Justice Department to expand its funding for community policing to incentivize departments through grants.

Enforcing the task force's other guidelines will depend on whether Washington will fund police department grants that will hold recipients accountable, said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards, additional reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)