Six National Police Reform Bills Congress Must Pass


police-lights-2By Kanya Bennett

This week, we continued to mourn the loss of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers. But the reality is that we’ve been in mourning for victims of color of police violence for a long time: Anthony Hill (Ga.), Laquan McDonald (Ill.), Freddie Gray (Md.), Aura Rosser (Mich.), Michael Brown (Mo.), Eric Garner (N.Y.), Tamir Rice (Ohio), Walter Scott (S.C.), Sandra Bland (Texas), Antonio Zambrano-Montes (Wash.), and Dontre Hamilton (Wis.).

Members of Congress: These are your constituents. These are lives that matter to families, friends, and communities, and they should matter to you too. This is why we say their names.

We have a crisis on our hands. Excessive violence, including fatal police shootings of people of color, must end. We have been focused on bad apple cops when we really need to focus on reforming an entire system. Fairness and justice demand that we act in this moment.

Congress serves an important function in building trust and legitimacy between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The federal government annually provides billions of dollars and resources to law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Where is the guidance and accountability?

And advancing legislative reform is not an attack on law enforcement. It is clear that current policing strategies are not working. But while the relationship between law enforcement and many communities of color is broken, we have to believe it is not be beyond repair. Both constituencies should want intervention.

Last week, the ACLU sent a letter requesting that Congress take up six bills that could take the first steps to repair the relationship between community and police:

The Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act (H.R. 2875, S. 2168), sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), provides law enforcement with resources for accreditation, best practices, training, and other resources to increase trust between police and community. The bill also mandates data collection on use of force and other police-community encounters, so the public can begin to know what policing looks like in this country.

The End Racial Profiling Act (H.R. 1933, S. 1056), also introduced by Rep. Conyers and Sen. Cardin, prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from engaging in racial profiling and other biased policing. The bill would help law enforcement meet this mandate through training, funding, and data collection. As the Department of Justice formally acknowledged at the end of June, “most people experience some degree of unconscious bias.” Implicit and explicit biases have no place in policing.

The Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act (H.R. 5221), sponsored by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), would require police to be trained on de-escalation techniques that focus on preserving life. The legislation builds upon Police Executive Research Forum guiding principles on use of force and its belief that “the preservation of life has always been at the heart of American policing.”

The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 1232, S. 1441), offered by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would prohibit the transfer of some of the most dangerous  military weapons from the federal government to state and local law enforcement. Tanks, grenades, bayonets, and other weapons of war have no business in our communities.

The Police CAMERA Act (H.R. 1680, S. 877) is sponsored by Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and provides federal resources to state and local law enforcement so they can develop safe and effective body-worn camera programs that also protect civilians’ privacy rights. Communities and law enforcement agree that cameras can be a part of the solution, but they must be implemented the right way.

The DUE PROCESS Act (H.R. 5283, S. 3045) is a response to the controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The bill levels the playing field for individuals who want to challenge law enforcement’s seizure of their property by providing access to counsel, an increased burden of proof for the government, and other procedural protections.

It’s time that Congress becomes a part of the solution, or it will continue to be a part of the problem. When Congress returns from recess in September, they must get to the business of police reform.

Kanya Bennett is Legislative Counsel for ACLU Washington Legislative Office


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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25 thoughts on “Six National Police Reform Bills Congress Must Pass”

  1. hpierce

    Today, there are reports of multiple officers shot and/or killed in Baton Rouge… apparent ambush… apparently 3 dead officers…

    Reports of Minneapolis area officer shot… apparent ambush

      1. hpierce

        So… are you saying that the ambush (and deaths) of the officers are ‘justifiable’ and/or “logical consequences” of police misconduct?  Dallas too, where Dallas PD is called out as an exemplar of how to train and use community involvement?

        All the more reason to do the police reform.

        That was a very strange post, given what is happening…

      1. hpierce

        Only, at this point, it is clearly apparent, that we don’t know… ambush or ‘other’…

        One witness defines the world?

        I freely admit, I don’t know… but apparently, you do…

        1. Don Shor

          but apparently, you do…

          “Apparently” is the word I used because it has a meaning. So your followup comment was gratuitous. Maybe you could tone that kind of thing down.

      2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        Don Shor: Apparently not an ambush.

        It looks to me like it was an ambush. You may have been misled by the HuffPo’s reporting.
        This is from the L.A. Times:
        Baton Rouge police officers and East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputies were attacked at about 9 a.m. on Airline Highway, less than a mile from the Baton Rouge Police Department’s headquarters, according to Casey Rayborn Hicks, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department. The gunman was identified as Gavin E. Long, a 29-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, a U.S. law enforcement official said. Another law enforcement official identified him as “a black separatist.”

  2. Frankly

    No surprise that most of these bills are partisan and from Democrats.

    What is really disappointing about this is that there should be much that both Parties can agree to work on together.  Unfortunately, the Democrats continue with their groupism, classicism, wedge politics strategy.

  3. WesC

    There is a very insightful post by a black police officer who explains what it is like to work in a low income black community.  His name is Jay Stalien and his entire post can be read on his Facebook page.

  4. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    the reality is that we’ve been in mourning for victims of color of police violence for a long time

    Of course, it is entirely racist of you and others to exclusively mourn “victims of color” — by which you only mean blacks* — to the exclusion of mourning anyone else killed by police officers in the United States. Twice as many whites are killed by cops as blacks. Yet those lives don’t seem to matter to the racist “mourners.” Everything is wrong with the radical politics of the BLMers, and no one seems to ever call them on their blatant racism.

    * Blacks make up about 1 in 4 people killed by police in the U.S. Non-Hispanic whites make up about half. The rest are Asian, non-white Hispanics, people of other races or unknown. I notice in the list provided of the “victims of color” who are being mourned, there are no yellow, browns, reds, or any other “colors.”

    1. tribeUSA

      Rich–Yes, and it seems to me that this narrow focus on race is inherently very divisive, and is contributing to an increase in racial tensions in our country. I don’t see any need to conflate the issue of excessive use of force (by a small number of police of all races) with racism; unless there is clear evidence of such systemic bias. The recent results of the Harvard study; as well as other rigorous statistical studies, show that any such bias is small at most. It seems to me the issue of police abuse of force, since it affects poor communities of all ethnic groups (blacks, whites, hispanics, etc.) the most is a golden opportunity for poor communities of all colors to unite for a common cause for some policing reforms that are likely reduce the incidents of excessive use of force (e.g. training in de-escalation; more community outreach to build/maintain trust). Instead, it is being used by politicians and activists; with the full active support of and promotion by the mainstream media, as a wedge issue that is leading in a direction of further mistrust and even a degree of balkanization of the country by ethnic group (together with the recent resurgence of identity politics). As evidenced by the very recent dramatically increased incidents of shootings of police officers, this false racial narrative has also been increasing the level of distrust and hatred of police by blacks. Police will have two immediate options; to back off of pursuit of criminals in minority neighborhoods (resulting in less protection of minorities from criminals in their midst, and increasing crime rates) or take more stringent measures to protect themselves in minority communities, which is likely to result in more incidents of perceived excessive use of force. In either case, it is lose-lose for both the minority communities and the police.

  5. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    As evidenced by the very recent dramatically increased incidents of shootings of police officers, this false racial narrative has also been increasing the level of distrust and hatred of police by blacks.

    Agreed. And that is why the Black Lives Matter folks deserve some blame for the murder of a dozen or so police officers in the last two weeks. BLM is inciting violence, and its incitement is all based on a false narrative that idiots and psychopaths with guns actually believe. In fact, the falsehood at the heart of the entire BLM has been repeated so many times by the new media (including the Vanguard) that I suspect a strong majority of Americans now actually thinks most Americans killed by cops are black.

  6. Barack Palin

    In fact, the falsehood at the heart of the entire BLM has been repeated so many times by the new media (including the Vanguard) that I suspect a strong majority of Americans now actually thinks most Americans killed by cops are black.

    And for that I believe the media is as culpable for the deaths of police officers as BLM.

    I think we’re going to see more of this:

  7. Frankly

    A contributing factor to law enforcement’s outward behavior/attention to members of the general public is law enforcement’s perceptions influenced by a number of inputs… the bulk of those being experiential.  After experiencing a number of encounters with suspects and criminals, a good cop will start to develop intuition for recognizing individuals reflecting certain criminal risk profiles. 

    This intuition transcends race, but certainly can appear to be race-biased if people of a certain race are over-represented reflecting certain criminal risk profiles.

    Blacks are over-represented in reflecting certain criminal risk profiles.  Asians as a group are generally much less likely to commit crimes and therefore are less likely to reflect a criminal risk profile.

    And the job of law enforcement is to prevent crime, not just respond to crime already committed.  So we expect good cops to rely on their experience-based intuition to detect and investigate reflective risk profiles.

    Had a good family conversation with my 24 year old son and 19 year old Nephew on this topic of BLM and demonstrated racism by cops.  Both have good friends of multiple racial/ethnic origins.  While out with these friends, both have experienced what they say is uncomfortable and unfair attention from the cops of their black friends.  But both admitted that their black friends are deep into hip-hop culture: dress, tattoos, music… etc.   My son talks about the uncle of his best friend… a 6′ 4″ tall 260 lb black man with tattoos on his neck, dreadlocks, a low-rider car with tinted windows and over-sized wheels and a 1000-wat car stereo with huge sub-woofer speakers blasting out his favorite rap artist.  He is a kind-hearted, religious, hard-working family man.   But he gets a lot of attention from the cops.  Thankfully he is also forgiving and not prone to giving any attitude back to the cops and so far he hasn’t had any seriously bad encounters.

    My son absolutely thinks it is unfair.  But he also has family in law enforcement and understands that without getting to know this young man, he just oozes that reflection of criminal risk.  In fact my son says he was apprehensive at first impression.

    This leads me to my point.  I think we have an unfortunate situation where the predominate popular cultural artifacts for younger black males is drugs, crime and violence.  And even when individuals are good people, by adopting those cultural artifacts they reflect a higher criminal risk profile to an experienced police officer.  It is really unique thing in that there is nothing like it with any other racial group.

    The source of these negative cultural artifacts are a level of hopelessness within the communities they originate from.  Young black men (and young black women) angry about the lack of fathers, crappy schools and poor economic opportunity… and behaving badly either out of rebellion or just their raw anger.

    The collapse of social capital in these communities and then the entertainment industry exploiting and commercializing the darkest parts of what should be just beautiful urban art… and then those that adopt this stuff.. even when not involved in the actual culture of drugs, criminality and violence… they get hit with the same criminal risk profile.

    It isn’t a primary racial thing… it is a secondary racial thing.  And it won’t get fixed unless we address and change the primary thing.

    1. tribeUSA

      Some good real-world points here–I’ve always contended that most of what is called ‘racism’ is actually more accurately described by what might be termed ‘culturalism’ (i.e. inter-cultural differences, misunderstandings and biases). As the melting pot continues with integration, a more unified culture emerges and manifestations of culturalism decline–it seems to me that (until very recently) relations between ethnic groups have gradually been improving since the 1960s; which gives grounds to forecast that current eruptions of identity politics and ethnic wedging will not succeed in balkanizing the various ethnic groups in the USA. The best thing is integration of primary schools in the USA, where kids of different ethnic backgrounds get to mix and know each other on a personal level at a very young age; before they are susceptible to indoctrination by propaganda from the political right, the political left, or any other group of ideologically biased adults!

      1. Frankly

        Everywhere you look where people of disparate cultures live in relative harmony there is a strong economy and abundant opportunity.

        When the people of different tribes are reasonably content they live in reasonable harmony.  It is only when resources are in sort supply that the tribes begin to war against each other.

        And the liberal approach… redistribution… is not getting it done.

  8. tribeUSA

    Most of the proposed legislation as described above seems pretty good (I think many police departments already incorporate most of the proposed policies; but also many do not). Perhaps this legislation is one of the positive things to come out of all the recent attention on excessive use of force (too bad it didn’t come without the whole racial bias narrative baggage; which has been both unnecessary and harmful in my view).

    1. South of Davis

      tribeUSA wrote:

      > Most of the proposed legislation as described above seems pretty good

      We all want to crack down on bad cops (and put them in jail when they kill) but I have to wonder why the politicians seem to ignore who is really killing lots of people (it is not cops)…

      “Chicago is 32% white, but they commit only 3.5% of the murders. Over 96% of the murders are committed by non-whites.”

      1. Barack Palin

        I saw this on a chat site, I don’t know how accurate it is but it looks legit:

        ACCORDING TO THE FBI, in 2013, 13.2% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau) was considered to be black. Here’s what that same 13.2% contributes to society:

        52.2% of the murders,
        31.3% of the rapes,
        56.4% of the robberies,
        33.9% of the aggravated assaults,
        30.4% of the burglaries,
        28.7% of the larcenies,
        30.5% of the car thefts,
        23% of the arsons,
        32.2% of all other forms of assault,
        33.7% of the forgeries,
        31.8% of all fraud,
        34.9% of all embezzlement,
        30.4% of dealing in stolen property violations,
        26.4% of all vandalism violations,
        39.8% of the weapon possession violations,
        41.4% of the prostitution violations,
        24.6% of all other sexual offenses,
        30.4% of the drug abuse violations,
        66.5% of the gambling violations,
        34.9% of the disorderly conduct violationsand
        31.9% of the vagrancy violations.In total,
        blacks were charged with 38.7% of all violent crime and 29% of all property crime in the United States in 2013.

        In the juvenile division, blacks were charged with:

        54.3% of the murders,34.3% of the rapes,71.4% of the robberies,43.4% of the aggravated assaults,40.2% of the burglaries,36.4% of the larcenies,43.6% of the car thefts,40.8% of all other forms of assault,35.7% of the forgeries,38.4% of all fraud,34.8% of all embezzlement,47.3% of dealing in stolen property,24% of all vandalism violations,38.1% of all weapons carrying violations,61.9% of the prostitution violations,26.5% of other sexual offenses,24.4% of all drug abuse violations,89.4% of the gambling violations,29.3% of the crimes against family and children,29.4% of the vagrancy violations and 44.7% of the disorderly conduct violations.

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