On August 13, the United States Conference of Mayors released a detailed blueprint for improving policing and promoting equal justice in America’s cities. WilmerHale served as counsel to the Working Group on Police Reform and Racial Justice that developed the blueprint.
The United States Conference of Mayors is the official non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are over 1,400 such cities in the country today.
Shortly after the killing of George Floyd, the Conference convened the Working Group on Police Reform and Racial Justice, led by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and including the mayors of Cincinnati and Tampa; the police chiefs of Phoenix, Arizona; Columbia, South Carolina; and Baltimore, Maryland; Charles Ramsey, who co-chaired President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; Ron Davis, former Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the U.S. Department of Justice; and Conference officials, and charged it with developing practical recommendations for sustainable reform in America’s cities.
The Working Group turned to WilmerHale after the firm offered its assistance following Floyd’s death, because of its deep experience in both police reform and civil rights issues. WilmerHale previously guided Chicago, Baltimore, and Puerto Rico through civil rights pattern or practice investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and advised on reform plans for each of their police departments.
Moving swiftly, the Working Group released and the Conference adopted a Statement of Principles in June. They were built on the premise that the police, who exist to prevent crime, cannot effectively do so without public trust. On August 11, the Working Group presented its report to the Conference’s Executive Committee, which reviewed it and adopted it as official policy of the organization. The report was released on August 13 in a press conference followed by panels with the mayors and chiefs discussing the core issues in policing.
The Working Group and WilmerHale worked closely on this accelerated timeline to develop the report, which collects some of the best thinking on the proper role of the police and the appropriate relationship between the police and the communities they serve. It identifies best practices and makes practical recommendations on restoring trust and legitimacy, the role of the police, sanctity of life, equality and due process, community policing, and transparency and accountability. Unlike prior reports, however, this report tackled the tough issues of police accountability and responded substantively to the calls for defunding the police.
Upon the report’s release, Louisville Mayor and Conference President Greg Fischer said “We believe these recommendations can fundamentally change policing and restore trust between officers and those they serve. It is a thoughtful, detailed, transformational product.”
The WilmerHale team was led by Jamie Gorelick, who served as the Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice when it asked for and received from Congress the power to perform pattern or practice investigations of police departments. The team included partners Debo Adegbile, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who co-chairs the firm’s Anti-Discrimination Practice, and Brent Gurney, a former assistant U.S. attorney with deep experience in policing cases. The team also included more than 30 other WilmerHale lawyers.
“We reached out to the Mayors to offer our assistance and expertise because we saw that they actually have the power to get things done and bring about true reform,” said Gorelick.
Chicago Mayor Lightfoot noted the dedicated work of the firm’s lawyers during a press conference to discuss the recommendations for police reform. “Thanks … to Jamie Gorelick and her team at WilmerHale,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “We would not have been able to go forward to this moment without you and Debo and Brent. And, of course, I want to thank the associates who really burned the midnight oil to make this happen.” Gorelick responded that it was an honor for the firm and its lawyers to have assisted in this historic effort.