Democrats Have Unveiled a Police Reform Act — Here are the Changes it Would Make, if Passed

On Monday June 8, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in addition to other top Democrats in Congress, held a press conference to unveil a proposal for sweeping police reform, following the second week of nation–and world–wide protests in response to police violence after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more. Developed by Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Karen Bass (CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (NY), and Senators Kamala Harris (CA) and Cory Booker (NJ), the Justice in Policing Act aims to curtail police violence by changing the way police departments nationally train and charge their officers, as well as exposing more information to the public.

"These are commonsense changes that, frankly, will create a far greater level of accountability for those police officers who violate the law, who violate our rights and who violate our common community standards," Booker said during NPR's All Things Considered. Here is an overview of what the Justice in Policing Act would entail:

A shift in the current use of force standards

Under the Justice in Policing Act, the use of chokeholds—like the one used in the killing of George Floyd—and no-knock warrants for drug cases—as was the case in the death of Breonna Taylor—will be banned. Moreover, this bill will mandate police to wear body cameras and to use dashboard cameras, and will more tightly monitor the transfer of military-style gear and equipment to local and state police departments. 

The creation of a National Police Misconduct Registry 

Currently, there are laws in place that protect a police officer’s misconduct records in many states, making them inaccessible to the public. As a result, officers often switch jurisdictions and can continue serving without facing repercussions for their actions. Additionally, civilians who choose to sue police departments when their civil rights are violated are unable to access this information, making it hard to establish a pattern of behavior, if there is one, for the accused officer.

Under the Justice in Policing Act, a National Police Misconduct Registry would keep a public record of violations made by officers; this would maintain a record of misconduct complaints, disciplinary and termination records, and certification records for the state the officer is employed in. Both local and state law enforcement agencies would be required to report use-of-force data, which would be broken down by race, sex, ability, age and religion. 

Making lynching a federal crime

There have been 200 attempts to make lynching a federal crime over the past few decades. Most recently, the Senate failed to pass the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act when Senator Rand Paul (KY) held the bill up, arguing that the definition of lynching was too broad. Under the Justice in Policing Act, lynching would be qualified as a federal hate crime. 

Reforming qualified immunity

The bill modifies qualified immunity, which shields law enforcement and government officials from being held personally liable for their discretionary actions while performing their duties, unless there is a clear violation of federal law or constitutional rights. If the bill passes, officers would be able to be charged not only for intentional misconduct, but also for cases of reckless misconduct. 

Instilling anti-bias training and practice recommendations

This bill would mandate anti-bias training for all law enforcement officers, with the aim to end racial and religious profiling. In addition, this bill would create a nation-wide standard for practice recommendations under Obama's 21st Century Policing Task Force, which was created in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder by police in Ferguson, MO.

Incentivizing independent misconduct investigations

Currently, many police misconduct investigations take place within the department. This bill aims to increase the number of independent investigations at the state and local level with the example of “pattern and practice”  investigations—which have previously been used to reform communities with large amounts of police violence cases—from the Department of Justice and state attorneys general. State AGs would be able to receive grants to create an independent process to conduct investigations about excessive uses of force by law enforcement officers.    

The bill already has over 200 sponsors in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and Speaker of the House Pelosi claims that after the markup period, when the House Judiciary Committee debates and amends the proposed bill, the bill will garner the 218 votes necessary to pass in the lower house. However, whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) will put the bill on the agenda or whether he will ignore it remains up in the air. 

While Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed party unity over this bill, the Democrats will need four Republicans to vote for the bill in order for the President to sign it into law, though Donald Trump has been openly against the bill since its reveal, tweeting an inflammatory statement that the Democrats were attempting to defund the police department. 

Republican Mitt Romney announced plans to work with other republican senators on their own bill, claiming no republican support for the one that the Democrats have drafted. A hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for next week.