Dems eye broader scope of policing laws, dictate rules for use of force, traffic stops


Democratic lawmakers are trying to expand a proposed overhaul of policing laws beyond punishing misconduct to dictate national standards for when officers can use force and when they can pull over drivers.

They say the new rules are central to addressing complaints about how police treat Black people.

Under a proposal by Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, a top Democrat involved in the negotiations, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland would work with law enforcement and civil rights groups to come up with a set of standards that police departments would have to adopt or else lose federal funding.

“Persistent, unchecked bias in policing and a history of lack of accountability is wreaking havoc on the Black community.” Mr. Booker said last month. “Cities are literally on fire with the pain and anguish wrought by the violence visited upon black and brown bodies. There’s no one singular policy change that will fix this issue tomorrow. We need an entire set of holistic reforms to improve police training and practices, and ensure greater accountability and transparency.”

Topping the list of national policing standards would be “traffic and pedestrian stop and search policies and procedures,” according to the draft proposal circulated by Mr. Booker.

Civil rights activists have long charged that Black people are more likely to be pulled over for minor violations, often as a pretext to search their vehicles.

Research supports the claims. A recent national study by New York University Steinhardt found that Black drivers were 20% more likely than White drivers to be stopped by police.

The national standards for policing would also cover use-of-force policies, including the circumstances in which deadly force would be allowed.

Under the proposals from Mr. Booker, officers would have to stop other police from using excessive force or face federal charges and possibly up to 10 years in jail.

Other national standards include requirements for:

• How and when body and vehicle cameras would be used.

• Types of bias-awareness training for police officers.

• Policies for eliminating racial profiling in vehicle and pedestrian stops.

Rep. Karen Bass of California, another top Democrat in the negotiations, said the lack of a national standard left a hodgepodge in which every department has its own rules. While some departments have banned controversial practices like chokeholds, for instance, others have not.

“There are 18,000 police agencies in the United States. There should not be 18,000 different standards for policing,” Ms. Bass said.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is leading the negotiations for Republicans, declined to comment on the negotiations.

Conservatives traditionally oppose Washington usurping decision-making authority from state and local government, making the national policing standards a nonstarter with many Republicans.

“It’s yet another attempt by the radical left to nationalize an issue that should be addressed by state and local communities,” Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told The Washington Times. “Reforming our police officers’ use-of-force practices should not be handled by Congress.”

The idea of national standards also hit strong opposition from the National Association of Police Organizations, a coalition of police unions.

“Senator Booker’s proposal in effect sets up a situation where the Department of Justice will be managing the hiring, training, deployment, and policy, including use of force and equipment, for every state and local agency,” the group said in an action alert to its members, who were urged to contact Congress in opposition to the proposals.

Whether the standards or any part of the policing overhaul can gain traction in Congress remains in doubt.

In recent weeks, rumblings of a deal quickly dissipated.

Before the Independence Day holiday, Mr. Booker sounded uncertain that the two sides can reach a deal this year. He blamed it, in part, on the many other issues Congress has on its plate, including the debate over massive spending on infrastructure projects.

“Time is running out. Congress is moving fast. There’s a crowded agenda,” Mr. Booker said on a webinar organized by BakerHostetler, a Washington lobbying firm.

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