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NORMAL — Even before she became U.S. attorney general in the Obama administration, Loretta Lynch worked on encouraging community policing.

Lynch, attorney general from April 2015 to January 2016, sees community policing as a way to improve communication and “restore trust where trust is lost.”

At times the problem might seem insurmountable, but Lynch — keynote speaker at Friday night's Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Dinner at Illinois State University — said that when the civil rights movement began, people thought problems such as segregation were insurmountable, too.

“At the time, … no one knew if this (the civil rights movement) was going to succeed,” she said in an interview before her talk.

One thing that changed people's attitudes was when they saw the level of violence some police used against civil rights activists, said Lynch.

In a similar way, videos of police shootings taken by civilians with smart phones or by police body and dash cameras are changing attitudes, she said.

The number of police-involved shootings has remained about the same in recent years, from 900 to 1,000 annually, she said. What has changed is the recording of these incidents.

“The visual makes it real,” said Lynch.”The viral videos show the depth of the problem.”

It's not a question of whether the videos are good or bad “but how we use them,” she said.

It is important, for example, to make sure people are aware of the limitations and differences between body cameras and cellphone cameras, in terms of what they do and don't show, she explained.

Civilian review boards, such as the Public Safety and Community Relations Board recently formed in Bloomington, are one approach to improving communication, transparency and accountability, said Lynch.

Too often, said Lynch, the discussions don't take place until there is “a tragedy, a shooting, a loss of life.”

The way to get buy-in from the police is to put them in touch with their peers and colleagues in other communities that have had good experiences with such boards to see what works, she said.

“Put in place real changes that are evidence-based and have proven to work in other jurisdictions,” said Lynch.

It's also important to provide “a bridge to communication” to help the public to better understand the police perspective, she said.

Police ride-alongs used to be a popular way of doing that. Lynch said Los Angeles is doing virtual ride-alongs, where people are able to view an officer's “typical day” by viewing body camera footage.

Helping the public understand how police work is different from most jobs, including the incredible amount of power, judgment and discretion they have, is also important, she said. Involving the public in police training is one way to do that, Lynch added.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota

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Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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