Explainer: US police reform bills compared

House Democrats press far-reaching proposals to address racial inequality in policing; Republicans back limited reforms.

Trump protesters confront police
Protestors ask police to back up before the visit by United States President Donald Trump to the Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, the US [REUTERS/Ash Ponders]

As congressional lawmakers work towards one of the most ambitious policing overhauls in decades, there is increasing division between Republicans and Democrats about how to accomplish a common goal.

Top Democratic leaders in the Senate said Tuesday that a Republican policing proposal is “not salvageable” and demanded new negotiations on a bipartisan legislative package after protests over racial inequality and the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of police.

They want something similar to a far-reaching proposal from House Democrats – the Justice in Policing Act – that would create a national database of excessive-force encounters, limit legal protections for police and ban police chokeholds. The bill is expected to pass the House later this week.

The Republican proposal in the Senate calls for an enhanced use-of-force database, restrictions on chokeholds and new commissions to study law enforcement and race. Senate Republicans say it would limit the federal government’s role while still making significant changes in policing. 

Here’s a look at the two competing proposals:

Police misconduct and use-of-force databases

Many officers who wind up involved in fatal incidents have a history of misconduct, including Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer charged with murder in Floyd’s death. He had at least a dozen complaints made against him, according to records. But those records are often not made public.

Democrats’ bill: Calls for a national registry including complaints, disciplinary records and termination records. It also would require states to report to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) any incident in which force is used against a civilian. The proposal would require the agencies to report the reason force was used and the national origin, sex, race, ethnicity, age, disability and status of each civilian.

Republicans’ bill: Would require state and local governments to report all use-of-force incidents that result in serious injuries or death to the FBI on an annual basis. Municipalities that fail to comply could see a reduction in federal funding.

Senator McConnell
Senator Tim Scott, left, is spearheading the Republican police reform bill that pours large amounts of federal funding into training and grants for local police departments [Reuters/Kevin Lamarque]


The Democrats’ bill would specifically ban the use of chokeholds and carotid holds at the federal level, while the Republican bill incentivises police departments to limit chokeholds through grant funding. President Donald Trump’s executive order also encourages limits through financial incentives.

Democrats’ bill: Would ban chokeholds and carotid holds and would condition law enforcement funding for state and local law enforcement agencies on establishing a law to prohibit the use of chokeholds and carotid holds.

Republicans’ bill: Would condition certain DOJ funds on a police department having specific policies restricting the use of chokeholds, except in situations in which deadly force is authorised.

‘No-knock warrants’

There has been a growing call to ban “no-knock” warrants since 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was killed in her Louisville, Kentucky home by officers in March. A no-knock warrant, as its name implies, is an order from a judge that allows police to enter a home without ringing a doorbell or banging on the door.

Democrats’ bill: Would specifically ban no-knock warrants for all federal drug cases and would require local and state law enforcement agencies to prohibit their use to qualify for some federal funding. Oregon and Florida are the only states that have outlawed such warrants.

Republicans’ bill: GOP senators argue there is no conclusive data on how, why and how often no-knock search warrants are used, and they have proposed requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to report specific data to the DOJ each year. The department would then be required to make a public report.

Qualified immunity

Police officers are generally not held personally liable for anything that happens on the job, including when someone dies. The concept of qualified immunity has long been a way to protect police and other civil servants from unnecessary lawsuits and to give them the freedom to police without fear of retribution.

Democrats’ bill: Would amend federal misconduct statutes to make it easier for courts to find officers personally liable for the violation of civil rights. Officers might think twice before abusing their power, but critics fear it could make it more difficult to recruit police nationwide. It could also potentially lead to officers being held financially liable.

Republicans’ bill: They say this is a step too far. As an alternative, the lead senator on the bill, Tim Scott of South Carolina, has suggested a “decertification” process for officers involved in misconduct. The president’s executive order instructs the DOJ to push local police departments to be certified. Under the order, the DOJ would ensure a department could only be credentialed if its use-of-force policies adhered to federal, state and local laws.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has said the qualified immunity provision in the House Democrats’ bill “is a total and complete nonstarter.”

Source: AP