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New Attorney General Loretta Lynch's first priority is to boost police officers' morale

So worried!
So worried!
Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Loretta Lynch has had some time to plan out what she wants to do as attorney general. And according to Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times, here's the first item on her to-do list: touring local police departments to show she's on their side.

Ms. Lynch is expected to continue many of Mr. Holder’s efforts. But as a career prosecutor with a law-and-order reputation, she comes into office with strong relationships with many of the police groups who have felt unfairly criticized during a spate of high-profile episodes of African-American men dying at the hands of white officers.

Mr. Holder recently completed a nationwide tour of minority neighborhoods to discuss policing. Ms. Lynch plans a similar tour of police departments, signaling a change in approach...

Ms. Lynch is concerned that morale in police departments has declined and that officers are being unfairly tarnished by episodes that do not reflect all of policing, several aides and friends said.

The article makes it clear that outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder also shared Lynch's concerns about police officers being painted with an unfairly broad brush. But it's Lynch's associates, not the media, who are saying Lynch is taking a different approach than Holder when it comes to use of excessive force by police.

Lynch isn't necessarily wrong about the facts. Some evidence shows, for example, that a small minority of officers are responsible for a disproportionate share of "resisting arrest" complaints (which are suspected to be a common "cover" when an officer uses force). But the increased attention to deadly police shootings over the last year has also revealed plenty of structural factors that protect police and can make communities vulnerable: generous legal standards when a police officer kills someone, the bias of many prosecutors, federal programs that encourage police to get and use military equipment, department policies that force police to "make their numbers" for petty arrests and fines. In fact, the best illustration of how all of these can shape the attitude of an entire police department came from the DOJ's own report on Ferguson, Missouri, which was released earlier this year.

And as Holder realized, it's important to consider the possibility that racial issues might be straining police-community relations, and to look into whether concepts like implicit bias and procedural justice can be useful tools for police. That project has been characterized as his "legacy."

Lynch might be right that, as one source told Apuzzo, "the communities and the police officers have more in common than they realize." But that doesn't mean the two are equal: the police are the ones with the power. And by feeling that they need a listening tour just as much as minority communities, it looks like Lynch is falling into the dangerous trap of letting that power imbalance continue by pretending it doesn't exist.

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