After Attorney General Loretta Lynch had to cancel her keynote at IACP this year, her speaking slot became a panel discussion on community policing and engagement featuring: Cornell Brooks, CEO and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Chief Kathleen O’Toole of the Seattle Police Department; Chief Will Johnson, Arlington (Texas) Police Department; and Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general, Office of Civil Rights, Department of Justice.

“There is a real need to emphasize how the community can help with public safety, this doesn’t just fall to law enforcement,” Gupta said to lead off the discussion.

“It’s important on an annual basis to measure community trust,” Brooks noted. In his view, important examination of the data will shift how the community, particularly African Americans, believe they are worthy of protection and not “objects of suspicion.”

Brooks noted that when African American youth are 21 times more likely to be the victims of law enforcement violence than their counterparts, it is not a perception problem, but a reality. Solving this issue, he insists, can only help law enforcement, particularly when communities believe that they can trust law enforcement to report crimes and come forward as witnesses.

“We must have police services that reflect the communities we serve,” Chief O’Toole remarked, echoing a popular theme that at this year’s conference.

“Relationships are the foundation by which trust is built,” Chief Johnson said. “We can elevate the relationships between law enforcement and the community.”

Addressing concerns that the president and the policing task force seeks to federalize law enforcement, Gupta reassured the need for law enforcement to operate on a local level. Her view is that reform is not driven by a gathering of federal leaders, but in collaboration with local leaders.

“I’d be disappointed if the federal government didn’t take an interest in local law enforcement,” Chief O’Toole noted.

Brooks cited that it was the involvement of the Department of Justice, and the analysis of vital data, which Brooks feels is key to initiating change, that found there were civil rights issues in Ferguson, Mo.

On the discussion of use of force, Chief Johnson noted that violence should elicit a negative response, but it comes down to the development of community standards.

“What kind of norms do we want as a society around these issues,” Gupta added, citing that Seattle has led the way on use-of-force training among law enforcement, including bringing in mental health experts and others to reduce violent interactions and improve officer safety.

The discussion then turned to the fact that many in law enforcement joined the force to become a force for good, but now, for many, they are viewed as “the bad guy.”

Gupta insisted that law enforcement leaders need to insist that they “are the good guy” among their ranks. She added that with the stresses law enforcement face every day, including managing suspects with mental health issues, law enforcement personnel needs support.

Having tough conversations about use of force, and more, will improve policing, Brooks insisted. “I believe it affirms and supports the vocation of policing,” he said.