It’ll probably get killed in the Senate or vetoed by Trump, but the Justice in Policing Act has a lot of good ideas.
It would impose new restrictions on police behavior, creating a national use-of-force standard that insists that violence be a last resort, permissible only to prevent death or serious bodily injury, and that officers try to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations. The legislation would ban chokeholds, mandate body cameras and curtail the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments.
The bill would make it easier to hold lawbreaking officers to account. Officers who violate Americans’ rights “knowingly or with reckless disregard” would be criminally liable under federal law; the current standard requires prosecutors to show that violations were “willful.” Victims of police abuse would also have an easier time suing officers for damages, which the doctrine of “qualified immunity” currently makes extremely difficult. A national registry of police misconduct would provide more information on the scope and scale of bad police behavior, and it would prevent police fired in one locality from being hired elsewhere.
The bill would provide grants to states to create independent bodies or processes to investigate law enforcement wrongdoing. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division would also get subpoena power to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations of police forces that appear to be discriminating against minority groups. The Obama administration used such investigations to demand reforms in a number of police departments; the Trump administration has refused. So the bill also would provide money to state attorneys general to conduct their own pattern or practice probes.
Even if the Act fails, it’s a step forward and politically draws the right distinction between the Democrats and the GOP.
(This is also substantially better than the ill-considered “Defund the Police,” sloganeering policy position that threatens to split the movement. A lot of apologists emerging issuing explainers on how “Defund the Police” isn’t exactly what it means, but that’s not how these things work.)