In response to both the outcry for police reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd and a Democratic police reform bill introduced last week, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott announced on Wednesday (June 17) a Republican proposal to address improving police accountability, transparency and community relations.
The legislation, dubbed the JUSTICE Act, aims at ending police chokeholds, increasing the use of body cameras and better training for police officers along with making lynching a federal crime and the maintenance and sharing of disciplinary records of officers.
The 106-page plan is intended to rebuild what’s been called by Scott “lost trust” between police and the community and he says that the legislation was actually driven by some of the things he liked in the bill introduced by congressional Democrats last week including requiring law enforcement agencies to report use of force data.
“The data reporting is really one of the areas where we both see the importance of getting more information from all the departments around the country,” Scott told BET.com. “Right now only about 40 percent of the departments are reporting, I’d like to see it at 100 percent if possible. The House bill seeks to do the same thing, perhaps the biggest difference is I want data based on serious bodily injury and death, versus they want data on everything.”
He also said there are similarities in asking for training grants for departments and also in the use of body cameras but mentioned the GOP bill goes even further in penalties for not using body cameras than the Democrats. “I think there are pretty strong similarities as it relates to the chokehold. We get to the same end, we just take different paths to get there.”
In addition there are similarities in language about duty to intervene, use of force civilian review boards, and also officer misconduct.
“We tackle it department by department to make sure the records are preserved because we were working under the assumption that the White House would do what that did,” he said, referring to President Trump’s executive order on policing signed on Tuesday (June 16.) The order also addresses creating a national database. “We believe the most important thing we could do to further the cause was to make sure we maintain the records in each department. So, the House wants a state database as opposed to what we wanted.”
The Democratic legislation, introduced June 8, titled the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 bans chokeholds, but it also creates a database that monitors police misconduct and eliminates no-knock warrants. It also makes it easier to hold officers accountable in both civil and criminal court.
Scott said that he had spoken to Sen. Cory Booker about the reform legislation. Booker questioned whether or not the proposals went far enough, but from Scott's perspective one of the things the bills needed is an emphasis on incident reports, which he felt was integral to holding police accountable.
“For me this started back with our approach to the Walter Scott murder,” said Scott, referring to an African American man who was shot and killed while running away from North Charleson, S.C., policeman Walter Slager. Ultimately, Scott wants to approach decertification of officers, although it is a contentious topic with police unions and which Democrats don’t seem to favor. They would prefer instead to eliminate qualified immunity to make prosecuting officer’s easier.
“I think the decertification process would be just as effective at getting rid of those bad officers,” he said.
Booker joined others in his party in criticizing the Republican bill as “heavy on gestures and light on real reform,” saying it does not deal with egregious officer misconduct, no-knock warrants, or provide public access to records of police misconduct.
“This is not a time for half-steps and half-measures. It’s time for bold action that meets the moment we’re in,” said the New Jersey Democrat in a statement. “If someone's knee is on your neck, they can't take it halfway off and call that progress.”
Sen. Kamala Harris said in a statement that she was also disappointed by the bill released by the GOP lawmakers. “The bill proposed today by my Republican colleagues is completely silent on police accountability. We should have a national standard for use of force – the Republican bill fails to adopt one,” she said. “This could have saved George Floyd’s life.”
Scott isn’t phased by the criticism and said his bill speaks to preservation of records for officer misconduct. “We think the issue is for the departments to have that information so if that bad apple is trying to transfer to another department, we stop that from happening,” he said. “What their bill says if it’s a legitimate complaint or not, whether it's been substantiated or not, let the public see everything. We just don’t go there, I don’t even agree with that approach, personally.” He believes that keeping a national database and preserving records reaches the same goal, but does so without jeopardizing good officers who may have a false claim against them.
As far as “no knock” warrants he says he wants all the information about utilizing them before coming to a decision. The bill would establish the Breonna Taylor Notification Act to track such warrants. The Democrats’ version would simply ban the warrants in drug cases.
Scott was present when Trump signed the executive order and says that it compliments what the Republican bill is trying to do. He said the order, which includes a chokehold ban -- except when officers' lives are at risk -- and the need to be certified by a law enforcement agency “really gets at the same outcome.”
“There’s a lot of words that may seem unnecessary, but what he does in his executive order, it gets you right where you want them to be,” he said.
Scott also had an emotional meeting with several Black families of victims of police violence over the course of several hours on Tuesday. Those meetings, he said went “extremely well.”
He said that he introduced them to parts of his bill and that they wanted officers guilty of misconduct held responsible at the highest level.
“I think our legislation gets close. I won’t pretend it goes all the way where they want it to go, but I think my legislation was designed for it to become law and not just a good talking point, so I think we covered most of what they wanted.”
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