Police Reform: Justice in Policing Act of 2020

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Democratic U.S. lawmakers recently announced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. It’s a significant step towards law enforcement reform. The Act applies to Federal law enforcement as well as state and local law enforcement, so this represents change at all levels of government.

The good.
There’s a lot of stuff in this bill which shows some promise at achieving reform. It requires state and local law enforcement to adhere to the Act or risk loss of Federal money. Those requirements include better record keeping, public disclosure of important data (like deaths in custody, and use of force). In addition, the Act creates a civil cause of action against law enforcement that violates a person’s civil rights.

On top of all of this, there will be a step towards finding and using best practices among law enforcement. Training and body cameras will be required. For jurisdictions with small police forces, there will be help so that they can comply with all of these guidelines.

The most important part of the legislation is the creation of data sharing. This will make law enforcement actions viewable by the public. Jurisdictions can get compared on how they exert force, so they can’t hide by burying records or losing paperwork. It’ll be available at the federal level, and open to the public.

These are just the highlights. There’s creation of independent prosecution of law enforcement. There’s a reduction in the amount and kind of military hardware being sent to police agencies. There’s also a removal of some kinds of liability for police, to make it easier for lawsuits to proceed to discovery and trial. In short, this is an ambitious bill.

The not so good.
As with any legislation, there are some details which might hinder the effectiveness of what it’s trying to do. The Attorney General of the U.S. is given the task of making sure that law enforcement follows all of the procedures. What if the person holding the office doesn’t feel like enforcement? Executive mismanagement can slow or kill progress.

In addition, there’s no mention of how the Attorney General can audit the information police provides. People familiar with criminal justice statistics might be aware that law enforcement has wide discretion on how it files information. Officials might classify one felony as a different one because the agency wants to look like it’s making progress.
Information is only useful if it’s accurate.

Overall, this is significant.
Provided that Attorney Generals hold states and local agencies accountable to the Act, this stands a good chance of changing how police are used in this country. It encourages non-violent solutions to encounters with the public, as well as establishing records to keep track of any problems with racial discrimination. With that look into how police use force, we can get a better idea of what sorts of problems police and the public face.

I’ll be interested in seeing where this bill goes, but I’ll try not to get my hopes up until it’s a real law. As a draft, it can get changed many times. Republicans haven’t had any input on the process, so we don’t know if they will call for changes. Afterwards, it will go to the Senate, where it will have to pass under the scrutiny of Mitch McConnell.

Bipartisan support is critical, especially if President Trump refuses to sign such legislation.

7 thoughts on “Police Reform: Justice in Policing Act of 2020

  1. I still want to see a hard rule that police cannot administer any “punishment” in excess of that allowed by the law. So, if an infraction results in a county jail stay of 7-10 days, a police officer cannot break a guys leg or kill him as both of those are in excess of the punishment had he been found guilty. Primarily lethal force is only authorized in cases in which the death penalty ensues. So, if someone is shooting at the cops, the cops can shoot back. But id someone isn’t being arrested for murder or doesn’t blaze away, lethal force cannot be used … period.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I understand the sentiment, but if this Act does everything it sets out to do as written, it’ll be better protection than such a rule. Under the Act, every time a gun is taken out of its holster, a report has to be made along with an explanation why. In effect, there has to be a reckoning whenever deadly force is considered.

      That’s a better situation in the long run because police forces won’t be able to keep violent police around, and the police that remain aren’t going to draw a weapon unless someone’s life is at risk.

      Like

      • So what if the cop does draw his weapon but, for whatever reason, doesn’t use it? Would he or his fellow cops be required to report this? Or is this just related to him actually drawing and firing the weapon?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Attempted murder does not carry a death penalty, so under your rule, the police could not use deadly force until the suspect killed someone, not just tried to.

      Like

  2. where it will have to pass under the scrutiny of Mitch McConnell.

    HA! Good luck with that! He’s so busy adding Republican judges he has NO TIME for matters that are actually part of his “job.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s got two different ways he can attack this bill, though, and it’ll be interesting to see which way he goes. His first option is to just stonewall. That’ll be bad for elections that are down the ballot. Maybe even his own election (he’s polling within 3 points of the Democratic candidate).

      His alternative – and this one is scarier – is to do like what happened with Dodd-Frank and basically take the working parts out of it. This way, he can claim he did something while passing something that won’t change a thing.

      Liked by 1 person

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