The challenges to come would dwarf that episode by orders of magnitude.
The lethal shooting of Michael Brown, a Black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., by a white officer in 2014 opened a new period of tumult in law enforcement and race relations. By the summer of 2016, a mood of crisis had taken hold, as the country confronted the successive killings of two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in Louisiana and Minnesota, and of the officers in Dallas.
For Mr. Biden, it was no longer an option to focus on the mechanics of crime-fighting over matters of race.
Mr. Biden repeatedly summoned chiefs and union leaders to his residence and his office, and backed an administration task force charged with drafting a reform agenda. Ms. Robinson, who co-chaired the panel, said Mr. Biden’s involvement helped secure cooperation from wary police groups, calling it “a reflection of his real sensibility about tone, and how things are being received, and the role that he can play in those situations.”
Ronald L. Davis, a member of the task force who previously headed the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, which gives funding to police departments, said Mr. Biden had been emphatic that the panel had to “come up with real solutions,” not just generate a report. (The group’s work was largely dismantled by the Trump administration.)
Without Mr. Biden’s involvement, it is possible that an insuperable rift would have opened between the administration and crucial law-enforcement groups. Mr. Wexler described a session at the Naval Observatory in the aftermath of Ferguson, when police chiefs and union leaders were at loggerheads.
“The police chiefs were pushing for reform, the unions were digging in and Biden had all of us to his residence,” Mr. Wexler said. “He mediated, in the sense that he let people talk, and if nothing else he was the convener, because everybody knew him.”
But if Mr. Biden’s easy manner and concern for cops helped bring police groups to the table, some law-enforcement leaders felt a mounting sense of grievance as they saw the administration take up a reform agenda. Mr. Pasco, of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that for all Mr. Biden’s heartfelt outreach, he was still “on the anti-police side of these issues.”