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Federal pilot project seeks to stem racial bias in law enforcement

WASHINGTON — Six cities will participate in a federal pilot program aimed at reducing racial bias and improving ties between law enforcement and communities, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.

The cities are Fort Worth, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Stockton, California; Birmingham, Alabama; Minneapolis; and Pittsburgh.

Their selection came six months after Holder announced the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, in the aftermath of the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting last August.

As part of the $4.75 million project, researchers will study data and conduct interviews to develop plans for curbing bias and strategies for building trust between residents and law enforcement. Separately, the Justice Department said it would offer extra training and help to communities that are not part of the project.

The weeks of protests followed the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer in Ferguson. They exposed the frayed relations between that community and law enforcement and underscored the need for a nationwide initiative, Holder has said.

“What I saw in Ferguson confirmed for me that the need for such an effort was pretty clear,” Holder said in a September interview with The Associated Press in which he announced the project

The department last week cleared the officer, Darren Wilson, of potential criminal civil rights charges in that shooting but also released a scathing report that detailed a slew of discriminatory policing practices in Ferguson and a profit-driven criminal justice system.

Since that report, Holder said he has seen signs of progress and a community willing to create change. The police chief and city manager, for instance, both resigned in the last week.

He condemned the shootings of two police officers early Thursday in front of the Ferguson Police Department, calling it a “pure ambush” and the act of a “damn punk.”

“Incidents like the one we have witnessed throw into sharp relief why conversations like the one we convened today — to build trust between law enforcement and community members — are so important,” Holder said.

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