Policing Reform Legislation
The House Committee on the Judiciary has approved a measure aimed at reforming the way federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies engage communities of color. The Committee acted on Thursday, June 18, 2020, in connection with H.R. 7120, the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020", approving the measure on a party-line vote of 24-14. The measure was reported to the House one day later with a written report.
Thursday's Committee action sets up the bill for consideration by the full House of Representatives next week and a potential conference with a competing Senate bill.
While the measure has few explicit references to immigrants, it is believed that its provisions relating to federal law enforcement agencies and officers would apply to federal immigration authorities, and the measure deals with racial profiling at both the federal and local levels.
As reported by the House Committee on the Judiciary, H.R. 7120 would take numerous actions intended to overhaul police departments and practices across the nation and end any racial profiling and the use of excessive force by police against minorities or others, and make police departments and individual officers more accountable.
Among its many provisions are those that would require the development of police department accreditation standards that promote accountability, requires enhanced training on the use of force (including by prohibiting use of deadly force except "as a last resort"), requires detailed reporting of incidents in which force is used, and provides for more vigorous investigations of police departments where police misconduct may occur.
The measure would bar certain police practices, including racial profiling, the use of chokehold restraints, and no-knock warrants in drug cases; it requires the collection of detailed data on police interactions with citizens; and it requires police officers to wear body cameras and to have dashboard cameras in their marked cruisers
Finally, it would make it easier to prosecute individual police officers for violating someone's constitutional rights and for private citizens to sue an officer who violated their rights, and it would make lynching a federal crime. In most cases the bill's mandates and prohibitions would apply just to federal law enforcement, with state and local police departments required to adopt the same standards as a condition for receiving federal policing grants.
Applicability to Immigration-Related Enforcement Entities and Officers
- Federal Law Enforcement Agency. The measure provides that the term ‘‘Federal law enforcement agency’’ means any agency of the United States authorized to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of Federal criminal law. While the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies generally deal with violations of civil immigration law, they both also deal with criminal violations. Thus, it can be argued that they would be covered under the legislation.
- Federal Law Enforcement Officer. The measure provides that the term, “federal Law Enforcement officer” has the same meaning found in 18 U.S.C. 115, which is “any officer, agent, or employee of the United States authorized by law or by a Government agency to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of Federal criminal law.”
Provisions that Could Apply to Federal Immigration Agencies and Officers
- Police Misconduct Registry. The bill would require the Department of Justice to create a National Police Misconduct Registry that includes all misconduct complaints (including pending, sustained and exonerated complaints) as well as discipline, termination and certification records of police officers. States receiving Byrne grant funding would be required to provide updated information to the registry every six months.
- Use of Force. The bill generally would prohibit law enforcement use of deadly force except "as a last resort" (currently officers may use deadly force if he or she "reasonably" believes its use is warranted), instead requiring officers to first attempt de-escalation techniques or other reasonable alternatives and to provide a verbal warning before using force. The use of force restrictions would be set by law for federal law enforcement officers, and state and local law enforcement would not be eligible for Byrne grants unless they adopted the same standards.
- Racial Profiling. The bill generally would prohibit federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and officers from profiling individuals based on racial, religious and other discriminatory profiles. It would permit both individuals subject to such profiling and the Justice Department to sue a police department, individual officer or supervisor for declaratory or injunctive relief in state or federal court. It would require law enforcement agencies to provide training to officers with respect to racial, religious and discriminatory profiling.
The prohibition on profiling and requirement for training would be set by law for federal agencies and officers, while state and local law enforcement would be eligible for federal Byrne grant funding only if they adopt similar policies and establish best practices to discourage profiling.
The bill would require the Justice Department to create a training program on racial bias, implicit bias and procedural justice that addresses a "duty to intervene" when a law enforcement officer witnesses another officer using excessive force against a civilian. This training would be mandatory for federal law enforcement officers, with the availability of Byrne grants to local departments being dependent on local police receiving this training.
Law enforcement agencies would be required to provide data regarding racial profiling to the Justice Department. And to further help the department identify racial and other patterns in policing, all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies would be required to report on traffic violation stops, pedestrian stops, frisk and body searches, and all uses of deadly force by a police officer — with the information to be broken down by race, ethnicity, age, and gender of the both the officer and the member of the public involved.
- Chokeholds. The bill would prohibit federal law enforcement officers from using chokeholds or carotid holds to restrain an individual, and it would withhold Byrne grant funding to state and local police unless state or local laws are enacted to prohibit the practice.
- Civil Suits / Qualified Immunity. The bill would eliminate the legal doctrine of "qualified immunity" as it applies to police officers, which would make it easier for individuals to sue police officers who they say violated their constitutional rights or the rights of someone in their family — such as for excessive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
- Body Cameras. The bill would require all federal uniformed police officers to wear operational body cameras and have dashboard cameras in all marked police vehicles, and it would require state and local police departments that receive federal Byrne grants to use at least 10 percent of that funding to purchase body and dash cameras for police officers and vehicles.
Federal law enforcement officers would be required to activate the cameras whenever they are responding to a call, or when any other law enforcement or investigative action occurs in which they encounter civilians, and the camera may not be deactivated until the action has concluded and the officer leaves the scene.