Acknowledging that racial tensions and high-profile police shootings have undermined Americans' trust in law enforcement, the president of one of the country's largest police organizations apologized for the long-running mistreatment of minorities.
The apology, delivered by International Association of Chiefs of Police President Terrence Cunningham, came on Oct. 17 during the association's annual conference in San Diego.
Speaking before Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement officer, Cunningham acknowledged police "have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens." The lack of trust between police officers and the communities they serve, Cunningham said, has become a "fundamental issue" facing law enforcement.
"While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future," Cunningham said, according to a transcript of his speech provided by IACP. "We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities."
The first step toward addressing the problem and trying to fix it, Cunningham said, is "to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color."
Cunningham's comments followed a bluntly honest interview in which new NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O'Neill told the New York Daily News that he finds police-related violence "very disturbing" and said the problem causes him "great angst."
In the late September interview O'Neill said the incidents -- and the fallout from them -- impact police everywhere, not just in the cities where police have killed civilians.
“It’s a small world, and it makes our job much more difficult,” the commissioner said.
Critics still have a long list of demands and procedures they want to see changed. Many have pointed out the inherent conflict of interest when prosecutors -- who work side by side with police in their jurisdictions -- are called upon to prosecute officers. Others say the federal government hasn't gone far enough in making sure that police departments keep accurate and honest statistics on allegations of brutality, officer-involved shootings and racial data on traffic stops.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, told Fortune that he thinks Cunningham's apology is a good initial step toward rebuilding trust between cops and the communities they serve.
“I’m very encouraged by the apology offered by Chief Cunningham,” Stevenson said. “After centuries of silence and decades of denial and defiance, an informed, sincere apology can be critically important in building trust and understanding with communities of color.”