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Progressive Groups Push for Federal 'Czar' to Oversee Local Police Departments

FILE - This Aug. 20, 2014 file-pool photo shows Attorney General Eric Holder talking with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant in Florrissant, Mo. As the Justice Department probes the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, history suggests there’s no guarantee of a criminal prosecution, let alone a conviction. Federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated the path to prosecution in past police shootings. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File-Pool) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File-Pool\n

Progressive organizations are calling for a federal police "czar" as a way to increase oversight of local police departments and prevent a future incident like that which occurred in Ferguson, Missouri.

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Florrissant, Mo., Aug. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File-Pool)

An open letter to President Barack Obama, featured in a full-page ad in the Washington Post this week, called for Obama to take six executive actions to prevent police from running afoul of the law.

“If somebody isn’t tasked with ensuring the implementation of equitable policing in cities across the country, then no one will do the job,” one recommendation said. “The administration must appoint a federal czar, housed in the U.S. Department of Justice, who is specifically tasked with promoting the professionalization of local law enforcement, monitoring egregious law enforcement activities, and adjudicating suspicious actions of local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding.”

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to phone and email inquiries from TheBlaze about whether it plans to move forward with such a position.

Maya Rockeymoore, president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a liberal advocacy group that spearheaded the letter, said they have not gotten a response either.

“There should be a person in the Justice Department watching the professionalism of police departments when egregious activities occur that could result in lethal outcomes, to ensure that practices and procedures are followed,” Rockeymoore told TheBlaze.

Among the signatures on the letter were the heads of the NAACP, the Urban League, Color of Change and the AFL-CIO. It also included signatures from members of Congress, attorneys, academics, law enforcement and clergy.

Many of the organizations were represented at a rally held in front of the Justice Department Wednesday.

Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, last week amid unrest after Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. Rockeymoore said the problem is much larger than Ferguson.

“You cannot treat Ferguson as if it is an isolated incident,” she said. “We have to handle the situation to be better as a country. This is across race. I read recently about an unarmed Caucasian in Minnesota who was killed by a police officer.”

Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, told The Hill he had problems with increased federal intervention.

“With all due respect to the federal government, I think it’s a bad idea,” Johnson said. “Anytime the federal government, even with good intentions, steps in and says, ‘We know what’s best for your community … that’s a red flag.’”

Cedric Alexander, president of the National Organization for Black Law Enforcement Executives, told TheBlaze a federal police czar is an idea worth exploring so long as the office is about setting standards.

“It's a great idea if it puts the Justice Department in direct contact with law enforcement across the country,” said Alexander, who is also the director of public safety for DeKalb County, Georgia. “But it should be supportive and not adversarial of police. By supportive, I mean setting standards and offering training.”

Rockeymoore said she saw no reason law enforcement should oppose a police czar.

“I don't see why police would worry that someone would enforce basic standards of conduct,” she said. “When people have confidence in law enforcement, they have confidence in the system.”

She also dismissed the idea that a police czar position would be misused for political targeting.

“When we elect officials or confirm officials, we should expect the highest standards,” Rockeymoore said. “I hope any official, Republican or Democrat, would do their job in the best interest of the nation.”

Follow Fred Lucas (@FredVLucas3) on Twitter

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