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President Names Packnett, Local Activist And Educator, To Task Force On Policing

Brittany Packnett
File photo

Brittany Packnett says she’s made a career of “listening intently and intensively” to the needs of young people.  The former third-grade teacher, current Ferguson activist and executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis will now put her listening and leadership skills to use as a member of President Barack Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing.

Packnett says her first priority will be to “stand with and help speak for … disenfranchised young people, young people of color, often living in low-income communities that we serve through Teach for America, who have a voice that deserves to be heard because they want to be able to live into the fullness of their potential.” 

She says she’s thankful to the president and others involved in her selection to the task force for listening to people from “Ferguson and around the country who have been active in this work.” She says she’s also thankful to represent those interests and the interests of the community’s children.  “I see it as an opportunity to begin the important work of setting forth a more just community in our future.”

Packnett, who just turned 30, says it’s important that the task force have a voice from the St. Louis area.  “We’ve seen that this is an issue that touches all corners of the country, but most certainly we’ve seen Ferguson and St. Louis be a flash point. So as St. Louis is my hometown, I’m looking forward to also bringing that perspective as well” to the task force.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., praised Packnett’s selection. “As a young woman, a St. Louis County native and an educator, she has the leadership skills and commitment to help find national solutions to these systemic issues,” said McCaskill.

The task force will conduct its first listening session in Washington, D.C., next month.  The president is asking for its recommendations by March 2. 

Two Decades Of Community Policing

The Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services office, also known as COPS, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Besides two decades of experience, the office has access to an almost unending list of research and articles on what works and what doesn’t work in policing.  Additionally, it can mobilize a network of law enforcement professionals to aid local departments at almost a moment’s notice, as it did with Ferguson immediately after the Michael Brown shooting. 

So, with all of that experience and scholarship available, what more can a task force operating under a 90-day window really do?

Ron Davis, the director of the COPS office and the task force's executive director, says that even with all of that experience and research available, the task force still has important things to do: "to identify what (COPS programs) are doing, what we’re not doing, to identify the gaps and to make the kind of recommendations that are actionable, that we can actually move on.”

In addition to COPS and the task force, the Justice Department also provided nearly $5 million in grant funding earlier this year for a national initiative to bridge the divide between local communities and their law enforcement agencies. The consortium will work with five communities to look at several aspects of community policing.  The lessons learned from these communities will be made available to communities and law enforcement professionals across the country. The pilot sites are to be announced next spring.