State legislators and lawmakers seeking to remove officers with ties to extremist organizations from police departments around the country have encountered opposition to their efforts along party lines, and concerns that some legislation may infringe upon constitutional rights, reports the New York Times. Efforts to weed out extremism have gained momentum in the wake of the Capitol riots on Jan. 6 which brought more than 30 active or retired police officers under scrutiny for joining protests in Washington. At least seven face charges. Major unions in California opposed the first draft in February of a law that would reject all candidates who had been members of hate groups, participated in their activities or publicly expressed sympathy for them, fearing that the legal basis for defining extremist groups was overly broad, and that members of organizations opposing abortion or same-sex marriage might be ensnared by the law.
Legal experts say that the proposed measures are bound to prompt challenges on constitutional grounds, and that it would be preferable to prohibit certain types of behavior rather than to focus on membership in an organization. In Oregon, lawmakers responded to similar concerns by crafting a bill that seeks to establish a uniform background check for Oregon police officers, but leaves it up to individual law enforcement agencies to set their own rules on issues like hate speech. In Washington, D.C., the new police chief, Robert J. Contee III, has expressed support for an independent screening mechanism for police officers that is expected to become law by this fall. In Minnesota and Tennessee, the proposed laws bar current officers from being affiliated with white supremacist or other hate groups, with Republicans in both states. Standards vary widely among police departments for how to confront extremists because many of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States set their own.