Democrats unveiled Monday a sprawling package of proposals aimed at addressing calls for police reform from across the political spectrum, including mandates for anti-bias training, national use-of-force standards and changes to make it easier to sue officers for misconduct — all of which drew fire from law enforcement officials.
Tackling what activists describe as decades-old racism built into the system, the Justice and Policing Act would create a National Police Misconduct Registry, ban police chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants in drug cases and limit the amount of military-grade weapons that the federal government transfers to police departments.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, California Democrat, called the push for police accountability a “rainbow movement” for the diversity of its supporters around the country and world, saying cellphone videos helped expose widespread police brutality against black Americans.
“I am certain police officers want to make sure they are trained in the best practices,” Ms. Bass said. “A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harris, a California Democrat who has served as the state’s attorney general, said the measures were “literally in the best interest of all Americans.”
“This is a basic matter of fairness, and as so many have said, justice,” she said.
The National Association of Police Organizations slammed the bill as an “unworkable hodgepodge of conflicting laws and policy.”
“It’s clear when you read this that the authors either have very little knowledge of the conditions of law enforcement or else that they don’t particularly care,” William Johnson, NAPO’s executive director, said in a statement to The Washington Times.
He was particularly alarmed that the bill would make it easier to prosecute officers who use excessive force by changing the federal standard for police misconduct from “willfulness” to “reckless disregard.”
“Think about that,” he said. “You’ve got federal lawmakers proposing a federal law that says that even when the federal law is so unclear as to be unknowable by any reasonable officer, that officer can still go to prison for an unintentional act that unknowingly broke an unknown law.”
The legislation likely faces a rocky path in the Republican-controlled Senate.
President Trump said he is reviewing the bill but would not entertain proposals to defund or otherwise weaken police authority.
“We have great law enforcement. I’m very proud of them. Our police have been letting us live in peace,” he said at a meeting with law enforcement officials at the White House.
Other measures in the bill included:
⦁ Creation of a national standard for use of force and a requirement for an independent federal review of cases involving officers.
⦁ Creation of a national police misconduct registry so that officers fired for misconduct cannot simply continue in law enforcement in another jurisdiction.
⦁ Mandated collection of data on incidents in which officers use force against civilians.
⦁ New federal incentives for states and localities to develop law enforcement approaches that de-emphasize use of force.
The bill also would make lynching a federal crime, a proposal that Congress has attempted to codify hundreds of times. It was derailed most recently last week when Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, demanded a more specific definition of lynching in the bill.
“We can’t settle for anything other than transformative structural change,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Still, the package fell short of what activists have demanded, including calls to defund the police, and it risked alienating the Democrats’ far-left base.
The rehabilitation of police forces, including calls on the far left to defund urban police departments, gained momentum as protests swept across the country and around the world after George Floyd, a black man, died during his arrest by Minneapolis police two weeks ago.
Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he died, made his first court appearance Monday on murder charges. The judge set his bail at $1.25 million without conditions or $1 million with conditions that included a prohibition on returning to police work or contacting Mr. Floyd’s family.
The frustrations spilling onto the streets, according to protesters and their allies, are rooted in centuries of racism and injustices that underpin modern laws and policies.
“With few exceptions, white people came to this country willingly in search of a new world full of liberty and justice for all,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, a black South Carolina Democrat. “With few exceptions, black people came to this country against their will, chained, shackled. They came to these shores enslaved and stayed that way for 244 years.
“We are still in search of a more perfect union. We will always be in search of a more perfect union,” he added.
Black Lives Matter and other activists have called for more radical changes, including replacing police with mental health responders for mental health calls, street outreach teams for homeless people and social workers for domestic violence calls. They also have called for a greater emphasis on “restorative justice,” which would mediate issues between the victim and offender for crimes such as theft or property damage.
They also want to decriminalize marijuana and eliminate traffic stops in favor of exclusive use of speed cameras and red-light cameras.
Republicans, including Mr. Trump, have dismissed measures to defund police but have left open the possibility of supporting new accountability measures.
“I’m all for social work and mental health, but — call me old-fashioned — I think you may actually want a police officer to stop a criminal and arrest him before we try to work through his feelings,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “I have a feeling the American people are too smart for this.”
Mr. Trump drew a red line: “We won’t be defunding our police. We won’t be dismantling our police. We won’t be disbanding our police. We won’t be ending our police force in a city.”
Democratic leaders steered clear of the more extreme demands by Black Lives Matter and liberal activists.
“We want to work with our police departments, and there are many who take pride in their work,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “But there are many things we call upon our police departments to deal with mental health issues, policing in schools and the race that we can rebalance some of our funding to address some of those issues, more directly.”
House Democrats aim to pass the bill by the end of June, though they remain skeptical of its chances in the Senate after the skirmish over the anti-lynching bill.