By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The president of an organization representing U.S. and international police officials apologized on Monday for the role law enforcement has played in "society's historical mistreatment of communities of color."
The remarks by Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, come amid a recent string of killings of black men and women by officers that have sparked protests across the United States and calls for greater accountability in the use of deadly force.
According to a transcript provided by the group, Cunningham, speaking at the group's convention in San Diego, did not make mention of any particular incident, including the fatal shooting in nearby El Cajon last month of Ugandan refugee Alfred Olango by officers.
The shooting death of Olango, 38, in the parking lot of a taco stand touched off nearly a week of protests in El Cajon.
"There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens," Cunningham said.
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"For our part, the first step in this process is for law enforcement and the IACP 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," said Cunningham, who is white.
Cunningham, who is police chief in Wellesley, Massachusetts, near Boston, said it was also important for those critical of police to "acknowledge that today's officers are not to blame for the injustice of the past."
According to its website, the IACP, which was founded more than 100 years ago, represents 20,000 law enforcement professionals from 100 countries.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking to the IACP conference on Monday, called an announcement by the U.S. Justice Department that in 2017 it would begin collecting data about law enforcement officers’ use of force nationwide "preliminary."
But Lynch said the moves "represent the framework for initiatives that will allow all of us to gain what we have sorely lacked: an accurate picture of what is actually happening out in the field
Earlier this year, the department also outlined a plan for collecting death-in-custody data from state and local law enforcement agencies.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Julia Harte in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)