Republicans Underwhelming Police Reform Bill

Today, Senator Tim Scott released the Senate Republican police reform bill. Here’s the quick and dirty of it: 

1. New reporting requirements when officers use force that results in death or serious injury for state and local departments that get federal funds. This data will be made publicly available. 

2. New reporting requirements for no knock-warrants for state and local departments that get federal funds. This data will also be published in a public report. 

3. Limit funding for departments that do not ban chokeholds except for when “deadly force is authorized.”

4. Grants for body camera purchases and relevant policy development. Also requires departments to adopt policies to make sure cameras are used properly by tying proper usage to federal funding. 

5. Increase penalties for false police incident reports. 

6. Create a commission on the State of Black Men and Boys to study issues facing them and offer solutions. There will also be a commission to study the criminal justice system itself.   

7. Lynching is made a federal crime.

8. Makes it illegal for federal law enforcement to have sexual relations with an individual in their custody. 

9. Grant funding for police departments to create a system to maintain better employment and disciplinary records. Requires hiring agencies to review an officer’s past records. 

Notice what it didn’t include: either limits on qualified immunity or an end to the practice. The federal government has limited power when it comes to reforming police as most agencies are at the state or local level. That’s reflected in this bill. The reforms are either aimed at federal agencies or adding requirements for federal funding. Congress has little to no authority to outright ban chokeholds for state and local agencies. But it does have a say over qualified immunity. The Supreme Court distorted Section 1983 in Pierson v Ray to create qualified immunity. Congress can correct the distortion by clarifying the sections’ meaning and allow those who had their rights violated by police officers to get compensation through our legal system. Yet, Senate Republicans appear to have no intention of doing so. 

It is possible the bill could have qualified immunity reform added into it– or even improved in other ways. It will need House Democrats to sign off on it to pass. Conference negotiations would likely beef up the Republican proposal. Democrats— in their released legislation– proposed both a ban on chokeholds as a requirement for federal funding and qualified immunity reform. 

Otherwise, the bill is fairly good. It does about all it can do and it’s shortcomings will hopefully be addressed in conference. Should it be passed? I’m not sure. Yes it’s better than nothing but without meaningful reform to qualified immunity the bill does little to actually change police behavior. Then again, a little reform might be better than nothing?

Exit quote: “For the most part, that’s all either of these bills provide anyway — better and more standardized data on policing. Real reform will have to come at the local and state level, and will involve breaking the links between those levels of government and the public-employee union leadership that elects those politicians.”

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