SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s attorney general stepped into the national debate over the recent slayings of unarmed civilians by police on Monday, calling for a review by her agency and promising to lead a public dialogue.
Kamala Harris, the first minority to hold the state’s highest law enforcement office, made the pledge as she was sworn in to a second and final term in the office she now holds. However, she is widely expected to be preparing for a run for governor or the U.S. Senate.
“As law enforcement leaders, we must confront this crisis of confidence,” Harris said. “We must acknowledge that too many have felt the sting of injustice.”
She ordered a review within 90 days of how her Department of Justice trains special agents on bias and the use of force. Harris also said she will work with the state’s law enforcement agencies and communities in coming months to strengthen mutual trust.
Her comments come after the killings of two unarmed black men this summer by white police officers in Missouri and in New York.
Harris, a Democrat, is the daughter of a black father from Jamaica and a mother from India. She referred to herself in her inaugural speech as “a daughter of Brown vs. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.”
Harris said that as a career prosecutor, she has learned “one central truth: the public and law enforcement need each other to keep our communities safe.”
Her comments drew immediate support from San Francisco Police Chief Gregory Suhr. “I don’t think there is a law enforcement person in the country that doesn’t think that it’s necessary to have this conversation, no matter how hard it is,” Suhr said.
Harris did not take questions and declined an interview request, citing a tight schedule.
Karm Bains of Yuba City, a large man who wears the turban and full beard of his Sikh religion, said he has experienced bias from the public and from law enforcement, as when he was barred from the U.S. Health and Human Services building without explanation during a fellowship in Washington, D.C., four years ago.
“She’ll seek justice,” he said of Harris. But Bains added that “It’s going to take a lot to clean up California.”
He lauded her efforts to play a national role in discussing bias and hate crimes.
Elsewhere in her speech, Harris touted her fight against organized human trafficking, which she called “a form of slavery that profits from the cruel exploitation of our most vulnerable women and children.”
She outlined her office’s success in clearing a troublesome backlog in testing DNA samples that can link criminals to crimes, and in fighting for a bigger settlement with banks following the foreclosure crisis, “going toe-to-toe against an army of the highest-paid hired guns the Wall Street banks could put on retainer.”
Harris also announced a new bureau focusing on crimes against children. Its work will expand on priorities during Harris’ first four years, including deterring school truancy.
That announcement drew support from Norman Bernstein, an 81-year-old former Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school principal who said he has been fighting without success to require schools to adopt a uniform policy on missing children. Harris can draw attention to a pressing issue where it has been lacking, he said.
Harris is among the brightest Democratic stars and is expected to be preparing for a run for higher office. Her remarks at times took on the cadence of a campaign speech as she quoted former Gov. Pat Brown, father of current Gov. Jerry Brown, and proclaimed national leadership roles for California in general and her office in particular.