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Police groups endorse Biden’s pick for civil rights chief

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division nominee Kristen Clarke speaks during an event with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division nominee Kristen Clarke speaks during an event with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Some of the largest law enforcement groups in the U.S. are throwing their support behind President Joe Biden’s nominee to run the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

The support for Kristen Clarke, who is nominated to be assistant attorney general for civil rights, includes some of the nation’s most powerful law enforcement organizations, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Other supporters also include the National Association of Police Organizations, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and dozens of crime victims.

“Our partnership personifies the impact the policing and civil rights communities can have when working together to address complex issues -- as our joint efforts have spanned from addressing challenges within a local police organization to building a national effort to enhance the response to hate crimes,” Vincent Talucci, the executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote to Clarke.

Clarke, who was president of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group, is expected to play a pivotal role as the Justice Department focuses more on civil rights issues, criminal justice and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Merrick Garland, who was confirmed Wednesday to be attorney general, had emphasized at his confirmation hearing that he was committed to combating racial discrimination in policing and told lawmakers that America doesn’t “yet have equal justice.”

The endorsement of the nation’s top law enforcement groups signals broad support from the policing community of her nomination and could also increase bipartisan congressional support for Clarke, whose division would also be charged with investigating and prosecuting high-profile police misconduct cases and larger investigations into the practices of police departments.

Many advocates are looking for the Justice Department’s civil rights division to initiate several so-called pattern or practice investigations, sweeping probes into police departments that examine whether systemic deficiencies contribute to misconduct or enable it to persist, which were curtailed under the Trump administration.

While the Trump-era Justice Department didn’t ban pattern or practice investigations, their use was curtailed for several years. As attorney general in the Obama administration, Eric Holder frequently criticized violent police confrontations and opened a series of civil rights investigations into local law enforcement practices. The civil rights investigations often ended with court-approved consent decrees that mandated reforms. The consent decrees included those with the police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown and in Baltimore following the police custody death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

“President Biden’s DOJ nominees also made it clear that they neither support defunding the police nor believe that doing so will bring about the change our communities are calling for,” Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, wrote to congressional leaders.

And the National Association of Police Organizations, a coalition of police unions and organizations across the country, which was critical of Biden’s policing policies during the campaign, said Clarke has “already been open and welcoming to our views.”

“We both realize that we may not always agree with each other on every issue, but at the same time I believe we share a common goal of fair, effective, ethical and safe law enforcement,” the group’s executive director, Bill Johnson, said.