National Police Reform Dies on Capitol Hill

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Photo by akahawkeyefan via Flickr

Lawmakers attempting to strike a bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul have declared failure, effectively ending for the moment any hopes of significant reform as a response to the murder of George Floyd and other civilians that triggered widespread protests over police misconduct.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the Democrats’ lead emissary on the issue, made the announcement after speaking with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, his Republican counterpart, and determining they would not be able to bridge what had become “too wide a gulf,” reports the New York Times.

Although both Booker and Scott had been holding out hopes for a deal, the negotiating group of Republicans and Democrats had been unable to meet multiple deadlines for a breakthrough.

Issues that had dogged the negotiations since they began in April, 2021 included restrictions on deadly use of force, the creation of a national database to track police misconduct and whether victims of misconduct could more easily sue officers or their departments in court.

The right to sue officers currently protected by qualified immunity, which shields police officers from civil liability for misdeeds, was a key sticking point this summer.

But even the “slimmed down” version of the legislation proved too difficult, reports Politico.

“The effort from the very beginning was to get police reform that would raise professional standards, police reform that would create a more transparent way, one that would create accountability,”  Booker said. “and we were not able to come to agreements on those three big areas.

“It was clear to me that we weren’t making any more substantive progress.”

Booker added that negotiators weren’t even able to codify an executive order from former President Donald Trump that offered guidelines for law enforcement and created incentives for local police departments to demonstrate they met certain standards for the use of force and de-escalation training.

Scott, meanwhile, blamed Democrats for walking away from the talks and said that he had tried to introduce a compromise bill.

“Crime will continue to increase while safety decreases, and more officers are going to walk away from the force because my negotiating partners walked away from the table,” he warned.

The efforts were also complicated by internal squabbling among police unions, as Republican lawmakers were reluctant to cross the National Sheriffs’ Association, a more conservative union, even as Democrats managed to secure support from other police union groups, including the powerful Fraternal Order of Police.

But Jonathan Thompson, executive director and CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association, urged that the talk continue, saying “We can find common ground and will remain committed to doing so.”

In response to the decision, President Biden Joe said in a statement that he still hoped “to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd” and that the White House would consult with the civil rights and law enforcement communities, as well as victims’ families to define their next steps, including potential executive actions to secure necessary reform.

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