The anger and frustration brought on by the horrific deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of those charged with protecting the public have pointed a spotlight on the need for reform. We need to ensure all Americans have faith in law enforcement.
President Trump took the first step by signing an executive order that directs more attention and resources toward best practices in police training, recruiting and community engagement.
The President’s executive order will direct federal funding to only those law enforcement agencies that meet high standards around use-of-force and de-escalation. It provides incentives for law enforcement agencies to use a nationwide database to track terminations, criminal convictions and civil judgments against law enforcement officers. Additionally, it prioritizes training for police and social workers responding to incidents involving the mentally ill, homeless individuals and those struggling with substance use disorders.
The introduction of the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act builds on the ideas put forth by the White House.
I appreciate the exhaustive effort my colleague Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) put into crafting this bill. Sen. Scott has personally experienced instances of abuse, but he also emphasizes the important role of law enforcement in our society and rejects the false choice between supporting police officers or supporting communities of color. He is well suited to lead the Senate’s attempt to propose meaningful reforms.
His work has produced a bill that focuses on training and tactics that lead to the de-escalation of force, accountability for instances of officer misconduct and greater public transparency within the criminal justice system.
The bill seeks to strengthen training methods and tactics throughout law enforcement jurisdictions—particularly when it comes to use-of-force, means of de-escalation and an officer’s duty to intervene. The JUSTICE Act does this by using the power of the purse to encourage the adoption of new procedures and the elimination of specific tactics like the practice of utilizing chokeholds.
The JUSTICE Act takes a similarly bold approach to promoting accountability and transparency. It disseminates new best practices for discipline, suspension or dismissal when necessary. It also makes key reforms to the hiring process to make sure departments looking to hire new officers will have access to the prior disciplinary records of job candidates. It again uses federal funds to promote changes by creating a matching grant program to fund state and local government use of body cameras, requiring them at all times and establishing penalties for violation of this policy.
The vast majority of officers are good, honest individuals who provide a valuable service. They have a difficult, but vitally important job, which most carry out with the utmost professionalism. Ensuring that officers who abuse power are held accountable helps law enforcement just as much as the public. We can help foster better relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve through proper reform. That is why I am a cosponsor of this legislation and why it has the endorsement of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
With the exception of those parroting extreme ‘abolish the police’ talking points, members of both parties, in each chamber, are closer than most realize on these issues. There is a consensus that reforms that promote transparency, accountability and procedures that lead to safer interactions between officers and the community are the key to real reform. We must turn that consensus into action and pass meaningful legislation that will improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they admirably strive to protect and serve.
John Boozman is a U.S. Senator from Arkansas. He is a Republican.