Obama to address police conference amid Ferguson backlash

Obama to address police conference amid Ferguson backlash

Reuters

President Barack Obama will address a major conference of police chiefs on Tuesday at a turbulent time for the law enforcement community, with a new U.S. Justice Department report expected to be issued at the gathering on ambush attacks of police.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch had been scheduled to address the annual gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well, but she canceled unexpectedly due to illness.

Obama is seeking support in Congress and among police leaders for new measures to reduce high U.S. incarceration rates and reform sentencing guidelines for non-violent offenders.

The U.S. law enforcement community is grappling with public outrage over the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and elsewhere.

A dozen police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter this year resulting from shootings. That is an unusually high number, up from an average of about five a year from 2005 to 2014, according to academic research.

At the same time, FBI Director James Comey has said in recent days that fear of being accused of brutal tactics has sent a “chill wind” through law enforcement in the past year, making police less effective at cracking down on violent crime.

Lynch’s change of plans came ahead of her scheduled testimony on Wednesday to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

At the oversight hearing, lawmakers will ask Lynch about criminal justice reform and a range of other issues facing the department, said Republican committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.

Details of the report on ambush attacks and a second one on officers’ health and safety were not immediately available.

Ambush attacks account for an increasing portion of police fatalities, totaling 36 over the past decade and seven in 2014 alone, the FBI said. These included the double ambush of two New York Police Department Officers in December.

On Tuesday, the administration also issued a new guidebook of actions that elected officials and law enforcement officers can take to build trust and legitimacy within their communities, such as reviewing and updating policies on the use of force.

Members of a new national group of law enforcement leaders who support reducing crime and incarceration met Obama at the White House last week to discuss topics such as mandatory minimum sentences and the Black Lives Matter movement.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Christian Plumb)

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