U.S. Attorney General discusses repairing community-police trust

RICHMOND, Calif. (BCN) -- U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Richmond Friday afternoon for a forum about community policing that both highlighted positive local efforts and made it clear that work has just begun.

The forum, which began around 2:30 p.m. today, focused on the work of Richmond police to strengthen relationships between law enforcement officers and the community.

Acting U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch of the Northern District of California, Director Ron Davis of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, as well as leaders from various community groups joined her for the discussion.

Richmond was the last stop in a six-city tour that built on President Barack Obama's commitment to supporting community police work after nationwide protests over police killings of black people by officers in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere.

"Particularly over the last year, we have seen how relationships between communities and law enforcement can grow strained and how longstanding, deeply-rooted tensions can erupt," Lynch said today.

After speaking privately with Richmond police officers and visiting teens at the RYSE Youth Center, Lynch arrived at the Richmond City Council chambers to deliver her initial remarks.

As guests and media filed into the space, a group of around 20 protesters outside met them with chants calling for justice for slain 24-year-old Richard "Pedie" Perez.

Perez was shot and killed by Richmond police Officer Wallace Jensen on Sept. 14 outside a liquor store.

In January, the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office deemed the officer's actions justified in a letter to the Richmond Police Department. The department also internally concluded the officer acted appropriately.

But the family of the man, who was unarmed during the incident, is asking that the district attorney's office open a new investigation.

They don't believe their voices are being heard, protesters said.

And Perez's grandmother, Patricia, said the closed-door, invite-only nature of today's forum certainly didn't help.

"(Earlier this month), we heard the attorney general was coming, but we didn't hear where or when it was happening until (Thursday)," she said. "We also learned we weren't part of the invited few.

"(So) we're here today hoping to get a message to her: All is not well in Richmond," she said.

Inside, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus did speak to an understanding that things aren't perfect in the city.

"We've got to keep it real ... this is a work in progress," he said.

He later added, "Trust is an ongoing process that's not as simple as a destination you arrive at."

He said the relationship between the community and police is fragile and that trust can be "easily broken."

Magnus spoke of Richmond going through a "healing crisis," during which there are symptoms that seem like evidence that treatment has failed. But really, he said, it signals that healing has started.

Lynch agreed, her addendum being that the country as a whole might be experiencing that same healing crisis.

She too acknowledged that change is a slow process.

"But from what I have seen in Richmond today," she said, "and from all that I have observed in the cities I have visited on this tour, I am more confident than ever that positive change is possible."

Before the media was asked to leave as a roundtable discussion started, Lynch praised what she thinks is already going right in the Richmond Police Department - namely, efforts to develop relationships with officers and residents, businesses, schools, faith organizations and community groups.

Among other initiates, she commended the early adoption of body-worn cameras by the department.

Lynch's visit came on the heels of a $125 million grant through the U.S. Department of Justice that expanded nationally a body-worn camera program.

She also arrived immediately following a commitment of funds to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, including $650,000 for five sworn officer positions in Richmond.

"These new investments build on the work we are already doing to ensure officers can do their jobs fairly, faithfully and effectively and that residents can be protected, respected and heard," she said.

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