The US Congress is starting to propose their solutions to the national police reform movement. A number of bills have been proposed or discussed in the public sphere, but the JUSTICE Act seems to the bill that has the most realistic chance of becoming law. This 106-page bill was introduced in the Senate by a Republican senator, and it appears to have the support of the Republican led Senate. The following is a summary of the major provisions contained in this bill, which are all subject to change throughout the legislative process.
It is important to note that this bill does NOT include any mention of qualified immunity. The tone from the Senate is that any bill that includes a waiver of qualified immunity on the federal level is a non-starter. There has been talk, and even some proposals, in the House that would remove qualified immunity, but those bills have yet to gain traction, and are not likely to pass the Senate.
BANNING OF CHOKEHOLDS
The Act specifically defines chokeholds as a maneuver that restricts the ability of a person to breath, and likely does not cover a pure carotid hold.
The Act prohibits federal funds from being allocated to a state or local government where chokeholds are allowed for anything less than deadly force. The Act then prohibits chokeholds for all federal law enforcement agencies.
NEW FEDERAL CRIMINAL LAW FOR FALSE REPORTING
The Act creates a new federal criminal law outlawing any officer from falsifying a report in furtherance of the deprivation of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States where death or serious bodily injury occurs. The penalty is a fine and/or imprisonment up to 20 years.
BODY WORN CAMERAS
The Act provides grant money for all levels of law enforcement to purchase and maintain a body camera system, and it attaches rules to how the agency must use the cameras. The provisions of use are similar to the provisions in Colorado’s Enhanced Law Enforcement Integrity Act. Enforcement of these rules is done through removal of grant money when agencies are not in compliance.
INTERNAL AFFAIRS RECORDS RETENTION
Again, this provision is enforced through the use of federal money. In order to receive federal money, an agency must develop and maintain a file on officers that record and maintain internal investigations, awards, and commendations. This file must be maintained for 30 years or more. The file must be accessible to other state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies for the purpose of making hiring decisions, and it mandates that the hiring law enforcement agency review the file prior to a hiring decision. The provision does allow the officer or his counsel to submit items to be stored in the file, which would provide and officer the ability to submit a rebuttal to something in his file.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR LYNCHING
This Act would create a new federal crime for lynching. It is important to note that the common term for lynching means to hang someone, but the term here more broadly means for a mob to execute someone without a trial. This creates a criminal penalty for anyone that conspires with another to violate federally protected activities, a list of which is too long to list here. The outlawed activities are listed at 18 U.S.C. §§ 245, 247, 249, and 42 U.S.C. § 3631.
Any state or local government that receives federal funds under the Act is required to report all uses-of-force and no-knock warrants to the FBI, similar to NIBRS reporting. The Attorney General will prepare a report on uses-of-force and on the circumstances of every no-knock warrant.
TRAINING IN DE-ESCALATION AND INTERVENTION
The Attorney General is directed to develop a training program to be administered to officers in de-escalation and officers’ duty to intervene in another officer’s excessive use of force. The AG will provide certification to agencies that have successfully completed the program(s).
This bill, in the existing federal government grant program for hiring state and local law enforcement officers, provides grants for agencies that have a different racial and ethnic demographic makeup than the community. Those grants are for recruitment of police officer candidates with the same racial and ethnic demographics as the community.
TRAINING FOR CONNECTING WITH THE COMMUNITY
In consultation with National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, this bill creates a training program regarding racism in America focusing on improving relationships between law enforcement and their communities.
There are several other provisions creating studies on various topics and closing loopholes in criminal sexual conduct with someone in federal custody.