police reform
March 3, 2021

In a vote mostly along party lines, the House on Wednesday night passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants, create a national database to track police misconduct cases, make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court, and end racial and religious profiling.

Last May, Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than nine minutes, and his death sparked worldwide protests against police brutality.

Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, voted against the bill, while Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) said he accidentally voted for it, and will submit a correction. The measure passed in the House last summer, and was reintroduced in February by Democrats eager to see it made into law, now that the White House and Senate are also controlled by Democrats.

During the House floor debate, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said a "profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly-trained officers who are accountable to the public." House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed back at Republicans who argue that this measure takes money away from police departments and puts officers in danger, saying, "It would be an irresponsible policy to defund the police, and we are not for that. You can say it, over and over and over again. It will be a lie, no matter how well it serves your political purposes." Catherine Garcia

November 10, 2020

New York City is launching a pilot program in February where mental health and crisis workers will be sent to emergency mental health calls instead of police officers.

"For the first time in our city's history, health responders will be the default responders for a person in crisis, making sure those struggling with mental illness receive the help they need," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement on Tuesday.

The responders will be from new teams out of the Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services unit, Reuters reports, and will have the ability to help in situations like suicide attempts and drug abuse. The pilot program will start out in two unnamed "high-need" neighborhoods. In cases where there are weapons involved or there is an "imminent risk of harm," a police officer will also be sent.

In New York, police officers and emergency medical technicians respond to most 911 calls involving mental health issues. During recent anti-police brutality protests, demonstrators have been asking for a change, saying when police show up at a mental health call it can escalate the situation, sometimes violently. The New York pilot program is being modeled off of what is done in Eugene, Oregon, where unarmed mental health professionals respond to calls rather than police. Catherine Garcia

August 25, 2020

Qualified immunity has become a big concern as conversations grow surrounding police reform. And as Reuters reports, use of the controversial court doctrine has only grown as well.

The Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1967 to protect police officers who acted in "good faith" but violated the Constitution while working in an official capacity. It lets courts stop victims of police brutality from suing officers, even over an unconstitutional act, unless their actions were "clearly established" to be unconstitutional beforehand.

To decide whether to grant a police officer's request for immunity, courts first ask whether a jury could find an officer violated the Fourth amendment and used excessive force. Courts said yes to that question in more than half of appellate cases from 2015-2019 that Reuters analyzed. But as of 2009, courts can also skip the first question altogether, and have been doing so more and more often.

Next up, courts ask whether an officer should've known the violation was unconstitutional because it was established by a previous case. If that's a yes, the case goes to trial. But if not, the office receives immunity and the case doesn't even go to a jury. That's what has happened in more than half of cases from 2015-2019, Reuters reports.

Reuters goes on to note that granting immunity is actually a growing trend. From 2005-2007, courts actually favored plaintiffs 56 percent of the time in excessive force cases. But from 2017-2019, that trend has reversed, and courts favor police 57 percent of the time. This growing reality has lawyers, civil rights advocates, politicians, and even Supreme Court justices worried the doctrine has "become a nearly failsafe tool to let police brutality go unpunished and deny victims their constitutional rights," Reuters writes. Read more at Reuters. Kathryn Krawczyk

June 25, 2020

The House on Thursday passed a police overhaul bill named for George Floyd that would ban chokeholds, prohibit some no-knock warrants, and create a national database to track officer misconduct.

The vote was 236-181, with three moderate Republicans — Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Fred Upton of Michigan — joining the Democrats to pass the bill. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was drafted by the Congressional Black Caucus, and backed by civil rights groups and the parents of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and John Crawford III — three Black males who were killed by police.

On May 25, Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man, died after a white police officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. His death sparked anti-racism and anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country, and before the vote, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said, "To the protesters: We hear you, we see you, we are you."

On Wednesday, the Senate failed to advance its narrower policing bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated he will not take up the House package. The White House urged Republicans to vote against the House bill, believing that police should not be held personally liable for misconduct on the job, Politico reports. Catherine Garcia

June 24, 2020

Senate Democrats followed through on their threat to block the advancement of the GOP's police reform bill Wednesday, as the legislation fell five votes short of the 60 required to move forward.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the package "the equivalent of a fig leaf — something that provides a little cover but no real change" in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. "The harsh fact of the matter is, the bill is so deeply, fundamentally and irrevocably flawed, it cannot serve as a useful starting point for meaningful reform," he said.

Democrats believe the bill, which was championed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), was particularly lacking in terms of holding law enforcement accountable for misconduct. For example, it didn't seek to change qualified immunity standards. That said, three members of the Democratic caucus — Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Angus King (I-Maine) — broke from the ranks in the hopes of at least getting the bill to the table, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who expressed his displeasure with the outcome, voted no in a procedural move to allow for a revote. Tim O'Donnell

June 23, 2020

In a Tuesday letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled they're prepared to block the advancement of the GOP's police reform bill, championed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

The senators said they do not consider the "threadbare" bill "salvageable," dismissing the idea that simply amending it would lead to a satisfactory outcome. Instead, they suggested the package requires a near-complete overhaul, negotiated via bipartisan talks. One of the major hold-ups appears to be that Scott's bill "does not contain any mechanisms to hold law enforcement accountable in court for their misconduct." Democrats say the bill fails to address issues like the federal criminal mens rea standard, qualified immunity, and the lack of independent investigations into misconduct.

Harris, Booker, and Schumer also want to include measures that ensure transparency, directly ban racial profiling and no-knock warrants, and creates a national use-of-force standard. Read the full letter below. Tim O'Donnell

June 17, 2020

Republican senators, led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), unveiled the party's police reform bill Wednesday in response to nationwide protests against police brutality.

The package includes measures such as encouraging departments to severely restrict tactics like chokeholds by withholding federal grants to localities that don't comply with the policies. While this doesn't outlaw chokeholds, Scott said it's a de facto ban since the Senate believes departments won't wish to forego federal aid.

No-knock warrants, which the officer who killed Breonna Taylor utilized, also aren't banned in the bill, though the door was left open. As things stand, Scott said, there's no data on the issue, so putting an end to the practice isn't viable. Indeed, data collection is a major tenet of the bill — it notes "there is no official system for tracking police shootings" or other use-of-force incidents that result in death or serious injury. So the bill is requiring states and local governments to collect relevant data annually and provide it to the FBI National Use-of-Force Data Collection, which will then make the data publicly available. If state and local governments don't meet the request, they'll face funding penalties.

Under the bill, the Justice Department would develop and provide training on alternative de-escalation methods for officers, and lynching would become a federal hate crime. As expected, the policy does not contain anything about ending qualified immunity for officers, which the White House reportedly considers a non-starter.

Scott and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are trying to push the bill quickly, though Democrats have already expressed concerns. Read a full summary of the bill here. Tim O'Donnell

June 16, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday will sign an executive order on police reform, saying on Monday that the measures are "pretty comprehensive."

Senior administration officials told The Washington Post that the White House worked on the order with law enforcement groups and the families of people killed by police. Using funding incentives, police departments will be encouraged to increase their training on use of force, with those who do so having priority when it comes to receiving grant money, the Post reports. Aides said Trump opposes ending qualified immunity for police officers, which is one demand that many social justice groups have made.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Trump said the "overall goal is we want law and order, and we want it done fairly, justly — we want it done safely." He also said police departments "have mostly great people, but we will do better, even better, and we're going to try to do it fast."

Senate Republicans and House Democrats have been working on drafting their own legislation. Two Senate GOP officials told the Post their package will likely be released later this week, and will include withholding federal funds to police departments that allow chokeholds. The Democrats' plan would ban certain no-knock warrants, prohibit the use of chokeholds, and establish a national database to track police misconduct. Catherine Garcia

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