Justice in Policing Act: Incentivizing Bans on Chokeholds & No-Knock Search Warrants in Drug Cases, and Stopping Police Militarization (H.R. 1280)
Do you support or oppose this bill?
What is H.R. 1280?
(Updated June 16, 2021)
This bill — known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 — would implement a number of policies aimed at reforming police practices to reduce the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would eliminate qualified immunity; ban chokeholds and no-knock search warrants in drug cases at the federal & incentivize states & localities to do the same through federal grant restrictions; make it easier to prosecute police misconduct; provide law enforcement training in racial bias & the duty to intervene; increase data reporting; ban the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement agencies; and criminalize lynching. A breakdown of this 136 page bill’s provisions can be found below.
Police Misconduct Statute: This section would make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers for misconduct by changing the current standard from “willful” to “knowingly or with reckless disregard.” It would also define a “death resulting” as any act that was a “substantial factor contributing to the death.”
Qualified Immunity Reform: This section would eliminate the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which courts have interpreted as barring individuals from recovering damages when law enforcement officers violate their rights unless there was a clearly established legal or constitutional right.
Pattern & Practice Investigations: The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Dept. would be granted subpoena power to conduct pattern & practice investigations into discriminatory & unconstitutional policing practices. This section would also provide grants to state attorneys general to conduct pattern & practice investigations, and $100 million in funding would be authorized for each fiscal year FY2021-FY2023.
Independent Use of Force Reviews: A grant program would be created for state attorneys general to create an independent investigation process for law enforcement misconduct or excessive use of force. There would be $750 million in grant funding authorized for fiscal years 2021-2023 to carry out these reviews.
Law Enforcement Trust & Integrity Act: The Attorney General would be required to create law enforcement accreditation standards based on the Obama administration’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing. It would create law enforcement development programs to develop best practices in policing. The impact of any rule, law, or procedure that allows a law enforcement officer to unreasonably or arbitrarily delay answering the questions of investigators probing police misconduct would be studied.
Additionally, this section would require the Attorney General to collect data on investigatory actions & detentions by federal law enforcement agencies; the racial distribution of drug charges; the use of deadly force by and against law enforcement officers; and traffic & pedestrian stops & detentions. A DOJ task force would be established to coordinate the investigation, prosecution, and enforcement efforts of federal, state, and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct. This section would authorize $25 million in grant funding for FY2021 to cover additional expenses incurred in carrying out this section, plus $3.3 million for expenses related to conflict resolution.
A pilot program would be established to allow law enforcement agencies to use existing federal grants to promote demographic diversity in agencies' hiring practices.
National Police Misconduct Registry: A national registry of all federal, state, and local law enforcement officers would compile misconduct complaints (pending, sustained, and exonerated), discipline records, termination records, and records of certification. Law enforcement agencies would be required to ensure that all officers hired are certified within the state.
Police Reporting Information Data & Evidence Act: States & localities would be required to report to the Justice Dept. any incident where use of force occurs against a civilian or against a law enforcement officer, or face a 10% reduction in federal grant funding for that fiscal year. The reports would be required to include the national origin, sex, race, ethnicity, age, disability, English language proficiency, and housing status of each civilian against whom a law enforcement officer used force; and the reason force was used. Technical assistance grants would be made available for law enforcement agencies that employ less than 100 people to help comply with this bill’s requirements.
End Religious & Racial Profiling Act: This section would prohibit federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling and create a cause of action for declaratory or injunctive relief in cases of profiling. Law enforcement would be required to provide training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling.
Law enforcement agencies would be required to collect data on all investigatory activities and submit that data to the Justice Dept. in a standardized form. Federal funding to state & local law enforcement would be conditioned on the adoption of policies to combat racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling along with the establishment of best practices to discourage profiling. The Attorney General would be required to provide reports on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling and ongoing efforts to combat profiling.
Training on Racial Bias & Duty to Intervene: A training program for law enforcement officers would be established that covers racial bias, implicit bias, procedural justice, and the duty to intervene to prevent incidents of law enforcement using excessive force. Training would be mandatory at federal law enforcement agencies, while federal funding to state & local agencies would be conditioned on the establishment of training.
Banning No-Knock Warrants in Drug Cases: The use of no-knock search warrants in drug cases investigated by federal agencies would be prohibited. Federal grants for state & local law enforcement agencies would be conditioned on those agencies prohibiting no-knock search warrants in drug cases.
Banning Chokeholds: The use of chokeholds & carotid holds would be banned at the federal level. Federal grant funding for state & local law enforcement agencies would be conditioned on the establishment of a law in that jurisdiction prohibiting the use of chokeholds & carotid holds.
Police Exercising Absolute Care with Everyone (PEACE) Act: The use of force standard for federal officers would be changed from reasonableness to only when necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury. This section would require that deadly force only be used as a last resort, and require officers to employ de-escalation techniques. Federal grants to state & local law enforcement agencies would be conditioned on those use of force standards.
Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act: This section would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state & local law enforcement by restricting purchases for counterdrug & border security activities, and only allowing such purchases for counterterrorism. It would prohibit transfers of controlled firearms, ammunition, bayonets, grenade launchers, grenades (including stun & flash-bang), and explosive; armored vehicles such as MRAPs; silencers; drones that have no established commercial flight application or are combat configured or coded; and long-range acoustic devices.
Federal Police Camera and Accountability Act & Police Camera Act: Federal uniformed police officers would be required to wear body cameras and marked federal police vehicles would be required to have dashboard cameras. The Government Accountability Office would study federal police officers' training, vehicle pursuits, and use of force interactions with the public.
This section would also require state & local law enforcement agencies to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.Justice for Victims of Lynching Act: This section would make lynching a federal crime that automatically warrants an enhanced sentence under existing federal hate crime laws, punishable by a sentence of up to 10 additional years imprisonment. It wouldn’t preclude murder charges from being filed, which can already be brought under existing law.
Argument in favor
The Justice in Policing Act would ban chokeholds plus no-knock search warrants in drug cases at the federal level & incentivize states to do the same, prohibit racial & religious profiling, demilitarize law enforcement, and improve data transparency in policing.
This bill relies too heavily on top-down, federally mandated changes that should be made at the state & local level and risks undermining civil order. Alternatively, law enforcement agencies should be entirely defunded, rather than reformed to make changes.
Law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve; communities of color; state & local governments; and the Dept. of Justice.
Cost of H.R. 1280
In the 116th Congress, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that this bill would cost about $5 million (including $1 million in both revenues and direct spending and $4 million in additional payments to plaintiffs in civil suits brought against federal law enforcement agencies) over the 2020-2030 period. The CBO did not estimate the budgetary effects of the approximately $1.1 billion in appropriations that this bill would authorize over the 2020-2025 period.
In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) reintroduced this bill from the 116th Congress to adopt a bold, comprehensive approach to holding police accountable, changing the culture of law enforcement, empowering communities, and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they work in by addressing systemic racism and bias. In a press release, Rep. Bass noted the urgency surrounding this legislation:
"Last summer, hundreds of thousands demanded change that ends police brutality, holds police officers accountable and calls for transparency in our system of policing. Due to inaction, more than 100 unarmed people have been killed or brutalized by police since then. For more than 100 years, Black communities in America have sadly been marching against police abuse and calling for the police to protect and serve us as they do others. Last year, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support but was neglected in the Senate and by the White House. After we marched, we voted, and today we re-introduce the bill with renewed hope that it will become law. Never again should an unarmed individual be murdered or brutalized by someone who is supposed to serve and protect them. Never again should a family have to watch the murder of their loved one over and over again on the TV. Never again should the world be subject to witnessing what we saw happen to George Floyd in the streets in Minnesota."
In the previous session of Congress, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), then-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced this legislation to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement, and build trust between law enforcement and communities:
“What we are witnessing is the birth of a new movement in our country with thousands coming together in every state marching to demand a change that ends police brutality, holds police officers accountable, and calls for transparency. For over 100 years, Black communities in America have sadly been marching against police abuse and calling for the police to protect and serve them as they do others. Today we unveil the Justice in Policing Act, which will establish a bold transformative vision of policing in America. Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minnesota with George Floyd.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who also supported this legislation in the 116th Congress, has expressed support for this legislation in the current legislative session:
“We have not forgotten the terrifying words ‘I can’t breathe’ spoken by George Floyd, Eric Garner, and the millions of Americans in the streets who have called out for change in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. I worked closely with Rep. Karen Bass last Congress on the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, and am grateful to resume our partnership this year to reintroduce this critical legislation. This legislation addresses police misconduct and excessive force, while creating greater transparency within law enforcement, and grants victims more direct avenues for redress. With this legislation, the federal government demonstrates its commitment to fully reexamining law enforcement practices and building better relationships between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. While the issue of policing can’t be solved by Congress alone, the federal government has a responsibility to address this issue. I look forward to working with my colleagues, across the aisle and in both chambers, to ensure this bill becomes law.”
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill expressed her organization’s support for this legislation in a February 24, 2021 press release upon this bill’s reintroduction:
“The killing of George Floyd held a mirror up to a truth about the American legal system. It showed us in the most stark and irrefutable way, that there are deep, fundamental problems with how this country allows law enforcement to intimidate, abuse, torture, and kill unarmed Black people. Among the powerful reasons Americans were moved to action in the wake of the killing of George Floyd was watching Derek Chauvin’s reaction to being recorded. He stared at us with his hand in his pocket, believing that nothing was going to happen to him, that he would face neither criminal penalty nor civil liability. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is focused, first and foremost, on addressing the regime of impunity that has allowed police officers for decades to kill innocent Black men, women, and children without accountability. If Congress fails to act to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it will prove Derek Chauvin right. It will reinforce that in encounters with Black people, law enforcement officers are above the law. When Officer Chauvin looks into the camera as he kills George Floyd, he is looking at us. He is daring us to prove him wrong. We’re calling on Congress to prove him wrong and move forward the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.”
During the 116th Congress, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that Democrats’ bill was a “non-starter” that was “going nowhere” in the Republican-controlled upper chamber:
“They want to basically, as Senator Barrasso pointed out, federalize all of these issues. That’s a non-starter. The House version is going nowhere in the Senate. It’s basically typical Democratic overreach to try to control everything in Washington. We have no interest in that.”
Senate Republicans attempted to open a debate on police reform during the previous Congress using the JUSTICE Act, introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), as a framework. However, Democrats blocked debate on the bill and votes on up to 20 amendments of their choosing by invoking the legislative filibuster with only Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and then-Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) voting in favor of the debate.
In the previous session of Congress, House Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to this legislation on the basis of committee Democrats’ refusal to collaborate with them on drafting its provisions. Citing Democrats’ refusal to consult with them, House Judiciary Committee Republicans said:
“Although Republican Members agree that police reform is needed and even support some aspects of H.R. 7120, the proposals must be thoughtfully considered so as not to endanger the public or law enforcement officers by creating under-resourced and over-restricted police departments. Such a deliberative process did not occur with this bill. Because the Democrat Majority shut Republicans out of the process and rushed to pass this legislation, several of the provisions within H.R. 7210 have serious shortcomings.”
Specifically, Judiciary Committee Republicans criticized this legislation’s proposals to lower to mens rea standard for charging police officers with criminal misconduct from “willfulness” to “knowingly or recklessly”; to remove qualified immunity for law enforcement officers; to establish a National Police Misconduct Registry that they argued would include unadjudicated complaints or complaints that were determined to be unfounded; and limitation of military equipment transfers to local police departments.
In the previous session, the Trump White House issued a veto threat for this bill. Its threat read in part:
"This overbroad bill would deter good people from pursuing careers in law enforcement, weaken the ability of law enforcement agencies to reduce crime and keep our communities safe, and fail to bring law enforcement and the communities they serve closer together... The Administration does not support policies that undermine the ability of law enforcement to maintain law and order and secure public safety. H.R. 7120 would limit qualified immunity for police officers, which the courts have long held plays an important role in ensuring that law enforcement officers have the flexibility and confidence they need to make difficult decisions in extreme and unanticipated situations. This legislation would also allow unsubstantiated allegations against police officers to be publicized through a law enforcement "misconduct registry," thereby creating due process concerns for law enforcement officers and jeopardizing the privacy and safety of such officers and their families."
This legislation has 197 Democratic House cosponsors in the 117th Congress. In the 116th Congress, this legislation passed the House by a 236-181 vote (all Democrats and three Republicans voted in favor) with the support of 230 Democratic House cosponsors but did not receive a Senate vote due to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), had 36 cosponsors, all of whom caucused as Democrats, and did not receive a committee vote.
An array of leading civil rights organizations, 15 big-city mayors (including the mayors of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle), business leaders, and others expressed support for this legislation in the 116th Congress. These included the Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and others.
Of Note: USAFacts notes that the debate over police reform is constrained by a lack of up to date, standardized data from all parts of the country & all levels of government:
“One of the most striking things about data on excessive police force is what is lacking. Federal data on excessive force and police shootings is often too dated and inadequate to inform current discussions. Old, incomplete information is an ongoing trend across government data that needs addressing. Some, but not all, local governments provide policing statistics; however, what’s reported is incomplete and nonuniform, making national comparisons all but impossible.”
However, despite these data concerns, the House Judiciary Committee observed in 2020 that “American society has already known for decades of the strong connection between race and the use of excessive, often lethal force by police.” The Committee also noted that U.S. government bodies have “failed to act sufficiently in response” to this issue “despite official recommendations.”
As early as the 1960s, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — also known as the Kerner Commission — noted that the police had “come to symbolize white power” to some members of the Black community. The Kerner Commission identified the “abrasive relationship between the police and the minority communities” as “a major — and explosive — source of grievance, tension and disorder.” It concluded, “Police administrators, with the guidance of public officials, and the support of the entire community, must take vigorous action to improve law enforcement and to decrease the potential for disorder.”
More recently, in 2018, the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) examined the use of force in modern policing practices after a series of fatal encounters between unarmed Black persons and the police beginning in 2014. The USCCR found that:
Accurate, comprehensive data regarding police use of force is generally not available to police departments or the American public;
- No comprehensive national database capturing the rate of police use of force exists;
- The absence of mandatory federal reporting and standardized reporting guidelines exacerbates issues caused by the lack of data on police use of force;
- The best available evidence reflects high rates of use of force nationally and increased likelihood of use of force against people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, people with mental health concerns, people with low incomes, and people at the intersections of the aforementioned groups;
- Law enforcement officers lack training on de-escalation techniques, anti-bias mechanisms, and strategies for encounters with individuals with physical and mental disabilities;
- Law enforcement agencies lack transparency about policies and practices governing use of force and accountability for noncompliance with an existing policies surrounding use of force; and
- Communities perceive police use of force to be unchecked and unlawful based on 1) repeated, highly publicized fatal applications of force against unarmed civilians, 2) lack of accurate data on use of force, and 3) lack of transparency and accountability regarding policies and practices governing the use of force.
Sponsoring Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) Press Release (117th Congress)
CBO Cost Estimate (116th Congress)
House Judiciary Committee Report (116th Congress)
Sponsoring Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) Press Release
House Judiciary Committee Democrats Press Release
House Judiciary Committee Democrats Section-by-Section
NAACP Press Release (In Favor, 117th Congress)
Countable - Justice in Policing Act (116th Congress)
Countable (Police Reform Context)
Countable (Justice in Policing Act Context)
Countable (Policing Data Context)
Countable (Qualified Immunity Context)
USAFacts (Policing Data Context)
White House Statement of Administration Policy (Opposed)
Summary by Eric Revell (with contributions from Lorelei Yang)(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Marco_Piunti)
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