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Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris calls for more training to prevent police bias

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris calls for more training to prevent police bias
CaliforniaAtty. Gen. Kamala Harris discussed steps to prevent police bias at a news conference Friday in her downtown Los Angeles office with Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris called Friday for more extensive training of law enforcement officers across California to avoid racial and ethnic bias in policing.

The recent fatal shootings of black men by white officers in North Charleston, S.C., and Ferguson, Mo., have cast doubt on the quality of relations between police and the public, said Harris, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate.

At a Los Angeles news conference with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Harris said she had formed a group of law enforcement leaders statewide to find ways to build public trust.

"We know, as leaders of law enforcement, that it is critical that we … articulate our commitment to strengthening the trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve," she said.

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Harris' direct authority over law enforcement agents is limited. Her office employs about 300 special agents who investigate such crimes as healthcare fraud, gun violations and drug trafficking.

Harris said she had already begun stepped-up training of those agents. Twenty of them will soon start wearing body cameras in a pilot program.

"I'm going to start in my own backyard," Harris said.

She also vowed to change agent hiring requirements to draw a more diverse pool of job applicants. The law enforcement agents in Harris' office are now 84% male, 16% female, 53% white, 31% Latino, 6% Asian and 4% black, a spokeswoman said.

Harris said her office was working on anti-bias training that could be available to law enforcement agencies statewide.

Beck and McDonnell each welcomed the moves.

"Fair and impartial policing is the goal," Beck said.

A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 43% of California voters think police generally are tougher on African Americans than on any other group, up from 33% in September. Just over a third of state voters said police generally treat all groups the same way.

Twitter: @finneganLAT

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