• on June 26, 2020

Police Reform: What is Congress Doing to Act?

Over the past few months, Americans have seen the pervasiveness of police brutality and the need for police reform. Splashed across the headlines and trending on social media, witness video accounts of police brutality and racial profiling has shed a spotlight on the racism that still exists in our country. 

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and Michael Brown have become household names and become cries for police reform by the American people. The demand for justice and an end to racial inequality is echoing throughout the country as demonstrators take to the streets. 

And Congress has taken note. Two bills have been introduced, one in the House and the other in the Senate. While both bills share common ground, there are a few stark differences which will need to be addressed before a bipartisan agreement can be reached. 

The House bill introduced by Congressional Democrats is a civil rights and police reform bill known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. The bill aims to increase law enforcement accountability, change police practices and curb racial profiling. The legislation would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct and recover damages from officers who have violated civilian constitutional rights as well as put pressure on the Justice Department to address systemic racial discrimination by law enforcement. 

Meanwhile Senate Republicans released the Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act of 2020, or JUSTICE ACT. This plan includes incentives for police departments to ban chokeholds, more disclosure requirements about the use of force and no-knock warrants, and penalties for false reports. The bill would also require local law enforcement agencies to report all officer-involved deaths to the FBI, makes lynching a federal hate crime, and creates a commission to study the conditions facing black men and boys.

Unfortunately, neither the House or the Senate bills are bipartisan. The House bill, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), has 230 Democratic cosponsors. The Senate bill, introduced by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), has 48 cosponsors. 

Both the Senate and House bills work to address police reform but the proposed amendments and path to achieve a desired outcome are not always congruent. Below are some of the key issues the bills seek to address, and how they differ.  

Ban on Chokeholds

Chokeholds are defined as a tight grip around a person’s neck, used to restrain them by restricting their breathing, or restricting the flow of oxygen to the brain. Chokeholds are dangerous maneuvers which can result in serious bodily injury or death. 

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Democrats in the House seek to eliminate chokeholds at the federal level. 
  • Condition certain federal funding for state and local law enforcement agencies on banning the use of chokeholds and carotid holds. If a state or local government does not have a law banning chokeholds, they may not be eligible for certain federal grant programs.

THE SENATE BILL

  • Republicans in the Senate define the practice much more narrowly, applying it only to something done with the goal of incapacitating someone. 
  • Requires all state and local governments to put in place tough policies which severely restrict the use of chokeholds, except in situations where deadly force is authorized.
  • It also calls on the attorney general to develop new restrictions on chokeholds for federal law enforcement officers. 

No-Knock Warrants

No-knock warrants are warrants that allow law enforcement officers to enter someone’s home or other property without first identifying themselves. 

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Bans no-knock warrants in drug cases at the federal level.
  • Condition federal law enforcement funding for state and local law enforcement agencies on prohibiting the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases.

THE SENATE BILL

  • Does not ban no-knock warrants but requires states and localities to report data to the Attorney General on the use of “no-knock warrants” annually.
  • For each “no-knock warrant” carried out the respective law enforcement agency shall

report critical information related to the execution of the warrant as well as crime rate data for the respective locality. 

  • The Attorney General will then publish a public report of this information.

Racial Profiling

The House bill seeks to eliminate racial and religious profiling while the Senate bill avoids any mention of the term “racial profiling” in the text. 

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling
  • Conditions federal funding to state and local law enforcement to establish best practices to discourage profiling.
  • Require the Attorney General to provide reports on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling and ongoing efforts to combat profiling.
  • Mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
  • Requires the Attorney General to maintain a registry that, among other things, tracks complaints of racial profiling, as well as investigations, discipline, and firings due to racial profiling. 

THE SENATE BILL

  • Does not mention racial profiling at all.
  • The closest it comes to addressing racial profiling is the outlining of law enforcement agency hiring and education section, which helps to ensure law enforcement agency personnel are reflective of the communities they serve and creates an African American History Museum education program for law enforcement.

Police Misconduct 

The House bill calls for the creation of a National Police Misconduct Registry that would be open to the public while the Senate bill incentivizes state and local law enforcement to maintain disciplinary records by providing grant money. 

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Calls on the Attorney General to establish a “National Police Misconduct Registry” that will be maintained by the Department of Justice and track complaints, discipline records, and terminations due to police misconduct, racial profiling, and use of force. 
  • Incentivizes participation in the registry by conditioning some federal funding on state and local government’s participation in the registry and evidence of a certification and desertification program for law enforcement employment. 
  • Grants the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments. This will improve the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level.

THE SENATE BILL

  • Requires law enforcement agencies to maintain employment and disciplinary records of law enforcement officers for no less than 30 years through a covered system and carefully review the records of any officer before making a hiring decision.

De-escalation Training 

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Calls for the development of a pilot program that includes training in de-escalation tactics. 

THE SENATE BILL

  • Calls on the Attorney General, in partnership with other law enforcement agencies, to develop a training curriculum for alternative uses of force, de-escalation tactics and responding to behavioral health crises.

Qualified Immunity 

As it stands individuals who have had their constitutional rights violated by law enforcement officers may not recover damages in civil court.

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Allow individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.

THE SENATE BILL

  • The Senate bill does not address qualified immunity.

Independent Investigations

THE HOUSE BILL

  • Seeks to improve criminal investigations into officers for excessive use of force and other misconduct charges by creating a grant program that allows state attorneys’ general to access funds to establish independent investigations.

THE SENATE BILL

  • Does not address independent investigations.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 recently passed in the House with some bipartisan support. With widespread support among Senate Democrats the bill would significantly change federal law and require states and local precincts to make modifications of their own, such as instituting mandatory bias training, to receive federal funds. In the Senate, Democrats blocked the JUSTICE Act because they thought the bill did not go far enough to address police accountability. It remains to be seen if Senate Republicans will take up the House bill.

As the legislative branch works to find a potential compromise on police reform that suits both parties, the executive branch has also been at work to address police reform. Last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities. The executive order does three key things, first it instructs the Attorney General to create a database to track police officers with complaints against them. Second, it encourages the Attorney General to propose new legislation to Congress that would incentivize police departments through federal grants for training on de-escalation tactics and eliminating chokeholds “except in those situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law.” The Executive Order also directs the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary for Health and Human Services, to develop training for law enforcement officers on how to deal with cases of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness and encourages the involvement of social workers in these cases. 

Unfortunately, Trump’s executive order doesn’t address the main issue, African Americans and people of color are often treated unfairly by law enforcement. In fact, the terms racial profiling, race, or racism, do not even appear in the Executive Order. Another issue with Trump’s executive order is the fact that police departments are run at the state and local level, which make widespread change difficult. If this executive order is to be effective, it will need Congress to provide funding to police departments across the country.

For years, police reform advocates have called for policies to be amended and sweeping reforms to be put in place, and while it remains to be seen if both parties can find common ground, it is a step in the right direction to enacting change.  

Over the past few weeks, political ground has shifted and bills have been put forth by both the Senate and the House to enact varying degrees of police reform. While it is still unclear if the House or Senate bill will find its way to the president’s desk, the conversation of police reform has begun. And regardless of the outcome of either bill, the cultural shift among Americans who support Black Lives Matter and realize the difference in how police treat white versus black and brown Americans is the flash point needed to hold police accountable and remind them, no one is above the law. 

The Latest
Demand Answers on the Russian Bounties
categories: Blog
Two bills have been introduced, one in the House and the other in the Senate. While both bills share common ground, there are a few stark differences which will need to be addressed before a bipartisan agreement can be reached.
Demand Answers on the Russian Bounties
categories: Advocacy
Send a message to your members of Congress encouraging them to issue a resolution on police brutality.
Current Information Operation Topics: US intelligence is finally figuring out how to communicate with the American public on threats in our information domain, and we should all pay attention.
categories: Defusing Disinfo
You’ve probably seen messages that claim to provide evidence that busloads of “out of state” looters, rioters, and members of antifa are coming to burn down your town or city. They are bullsh*t. They are a psychological operation being run against Americans. And we should all understand how dangerous they are.
What lessons haven’t we learned since 2016? Lesson 6: The war on history isn’t about history, but justifying a contemporary course of action.
categories: Defusing Disinfo
The weeks leading up to Independence Day 2020 were a truly bizarre period in American public discourse, with an intense period of discussion about racial inequality and police violence sliding into a fraught counter-narrative about antifa radicalism and violence that failed to materialize.
Our independence depends on our unity
categories: Blog
For most of us, this Independence Day is unlike any Fourth of July we’ve experienced before. Yet, this isn’t the first time that our national celebration will fall during contentious, or even dangerous times.
Skin Color
Layout Options
Layout patterns
Boxed layout images
header topbar
header color
header position