Engel Cosponsors Newly Introduced "Justice in Policing Act"

Engel Cosponsors Newly Introduced “Justice in Policing Act”

Today, Democratic Members of the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled new legislation aimed at taking a comprehensive approach to police reform in America. The “Justice in Policing Act” seeks to address unchecked bias in the policing of communities of color, ban the use of excessive force by police officers, implement strong transparency measures, and hold police more accountable for their actions while on duty. 

Congressman Eliot Engel is an original cosponsor of the “Justice in Policing Act” and says these reforms must be the top priority for lawmakers in Washington. 

“Our country feels broken after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but the reality is it was broken long before these tragedies,” Engel said. “Communities of color have borne the brunt of unchecked bias and police brutality for centuries, and the systemic racism that exists in our society only exacerbates the problem. This glaring epidemic of police brutality has led millions of Americans to peacefully protest against an unjust system of law enforcement. Even as Americans conduct their Constitutional right to protest, the President and his party are supportive of efforts to crack down on these peaceful protestors, even threatening to deploy the U.S. military in our cities. Change must come, and instead of embracing necessary change, the President is only creating more division and resentment.

“The Justice in Policing Act, which I am proud to join as an original cosponsor, includes a host of necessary reforms that are vital to ending a police system that often terrorizes people of color. Our bill bans the use of chokeholds by police; it reduces the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct, from ‘willfulness’ to a ‘recklessness’ standard; it creates a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problem-officers from changing jurisdictions to avoid accountability; it mandates new training standards for officers including racial bias training; it limits transfer of military grade equipment to local law enforcement; and it finally makes lynching a federal hate crime, among many other reforms. Almost everything we have seen in the last few weeks that has left us hurting—from obvious racial bias and excessive force in policing, to lack of accountability and a militarized police force—is addressed in our bill. 

“Those of us privileged enough to serve in Congress must understand the critical importance of this moment in our nation’s history and rise to meet it with urgency. I am committed to doing just that. We know the system doesn’t work for everyone, and we know we need to do big things quickly to change course. Law enforcement needs to be more accountable, transparent, and must protect communities of color, not instill fear in them. That is what our bill aims to ensure.” 

The Justice in Policing Act includes the following reforms:

  • Hold police accountable in our courts by:
    • Amending the mens rea requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242, the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct, from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard;
    • Reform qualified immunity so that individuals are not entirely barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights;
    • Improve the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and incentivizing state attorneys general to conduct pattern and practice investigations;
    • Incentivize states to create independent investigative structures for police involved deaths through grants; and
    • Create best practices recommendations based on the Obama 21st Century Policing Task force.
  • Improve transparency into policing by collecting better and more accurate data of police misconduct and use-of-force by:  
    • Creating a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problem-officers from changing jurisdictions to avoid accountability; and
    • Mandate state and local law enforcement agencies report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
  • Improve police training and practices by:  
    • Ending racial and religious profiling;
    • Mandating training on racial bias and the duty to intervene;
    • Banning no-knock warrants in drug cases;
    • Banning chokeholds and carotid holds;
    • Changing the standard to evaluate whether law enforcement use of force was justified from whether the force was reasonable to whether the force was necessary;
    • Limiting the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement;
    • Requiring federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras; and 
    • Requiring state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Make lynching a federal crime by:
    • Making it a federal crime to conspire to violate existing federal hate crimes laws.