State, local and federal governments have spent billions of dollars over the past decade to resolve police misconduct cases, ranging from deadly shootings to neglect. For example, the Louisville Police Department paid $ 12 million to Breonna Taylor’s family. who was killed by police at her home in March.
But most of the settlements make no news and Law enforcement authorities are not uniformly obliged to make this information publicly available.
As a result, in many places taxpayers are left to their own devices to determine how much of their money is being spent on police settlements and how the payments affect state and local budgets. Often important details about the people involved are also hidden – what happens to the officers who commit misconduct, especially when cases do not receive national attention, and who the people affected by negative police operations are.
The Cost of Police Misconduct Act, a new bill by Rep. Don Beyer, the new chairman of the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress, seeks to change this by creating a publicly available federal database of allegations and settlements of police misconduct Tracked in both states and federal levels.
“The whole idea is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Beyer told me. “So we thought let’s measure this. And if we just measure it, we will likely change it a lot. “
Activists have debated whether a focus on cataloging misconduct and police settlements could curb police brutality. Civil rights activists Andrea J. Ritchie and Maurice BP-Weeks wrote about settlements in September, arguing in Truthout: “The most likely consequence of focusing on these payments is not that police violence will stop or slow down – because it’s a trait, not a bug. “
Ritchie and BP-Weeks wrote that proposed settlement reforms for this reason, such as compulsory malpractice insurance for civil servants or even efforts to “highlight the number of settlements for police malpractice” would make no change.
Beyer cited concerns like this “reasonable criticism”.
“They don’t want the law to deter appropriate and lawful payments to families or individuals harmed by police brutality. [or] through wrong police behavior, ”said Beyer. “It’s a balance because there are so many things in life. And I hope that over time the balance will be much less burdened with police brutality, a lot more money will be saved that can be invested in productive things. “
The idea that money spent on the police could better be used elsewhere, such as funding psychiatric services, is part of the argument put forward by defenders of the police. And Beyer told me how his own family realized the importance of public funding for mental health when his son faced a crisis that police couldn’t resolve.
However, this is not a defund of the police bill; She hopes to unlock funds by eliminating police settlements from state budgets, and Beyer said he sees this through public awareness of the cost of settlements.
When the public saw how much settlements they cost, Beyer said, “People will want to know why. And what did that do to my tax rate? And what could I have done to prevent this? And what’s wrong with our police department? “
But, as activists have long pointed out, decades of public pressure has not yet eradicated the prejudices that have led police wrongdoing to be disproportionately attributable to black people, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which provides crime statistics, has not improved the police’s ability to solve crimes. (The crime solved rate has remained fairly stable for several decades. The FBI reports that less than half of all violent crimes were solved in 2019.)
It is clear that reforms are urgently needed – to improve crime detection rates, but also to undermine the prejudice that has led to a situation where black men have a one in 1,000 chance of being killed by police and in which Americans of color, especially black Americans, have a relationship with the police that is defined by terror and trauma. It is also clear that extensive federal efforts to resolve these problems have stalled.
Should this law come into effect, it may or may not lead to less police misconduct. But it would keep a record of actions committed and payments made that would provide clarity on how much bad policing costs in life and in life Dollar.
The law on the costs of police misconduct briefly explained
In essence, the law on the costs of misconduct by the police would set new requirements for reporting misconduct at both state and federal level.
The bill would require the US Attorney General to create and maintain a publicly accessible online database filled with all allegations of misconduct, as well as information about new judgments and settlements.
For every allegation, judgment, and settlement, law enforcement agencies would need to provide:
In which department of the authority did the officer work? The ethnicity, gender identity and age of all officials and civilians involved. The year the misconduct occurred and the year it was reported. The nature of the wrongdoing (e.g. a shooting or an officer planting evidence) Any action the officer took after the wrongdoing (e.g., resigning). Whether disciplinary action was taken by the officer’s department or agency. The amount that was paid out in a settlement from which the settlement originated (e.g. police bonds).
In order for the database to be successful, law enforcement officers need to do additional work and ensure that they are keeping accurate records. The bill will allow law enforcement groups at the federal, state and local levels to begin reporting this data to the Justice Department 120 days after the legislation goes into effect. The groups would then have to continue sending data every month.
State and local governments who fail to comply would face a penalty: They lose up to 10 percent of their federal police funding. That money would be redistributed to state and local governments that have worked together to use it on criminal law work ranging from drug treatment programs to corrections.
Aside from being responsible for the platform, the Attorney General would be required to review all information provided by the state and local departments within 30 days of receipt using independent sources.
The Attorney General would also be responsible for compiling an annual summary of the data. A more detailed report is published every two years by the Head of the Government Accountability Office, who should provide an analysis of all information collected, including rankings and trends, for Congress and the public.
“I am optimistic that the behavior will change in important structural ways,” Beyer said of the bill as a whole. “And while it’s not just about saving money – it’s about reducing police brutality – the money saved can be used for other good things, including further improving the quality of the people who want to become police officers . “
Passing the Law on the Cost of Police Misconduct is unlikely to be easy
The prospect of the bill entering into force in the short term is not particularly good as Congress is currently being consumed by stimulus negotiations and passing bills to ensure the government is not forced to shut down due to a lack of funding.
However, Beyer hopes to use the start of the next legislative term to build support for the bill in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), recently selected as the next chairman of the Black Caucus, will endorse the legislation.
Given that next year the Democrats will hold their majority in the House of Representatives, albeit by a narrow margin – and that the Democrats supported the June Justice for George Floyd Act, which proposed sweeping police reforms – it is quite conceivable that in the House of Representatives would give enough assistance to pass the law on the costs of police misconduct, either alone or as part of a larger package.
What happens in the Senate depends in part on the results of the Georgian runoff elections. The state’s two Republican senators are up for re-election, and if only one wins, the Republicans retain control of the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to adopt the bills passed by Parliament across the Trump administration – and can continue that pattern if he remains majority leader under a Biden administration.
If Democrats win both races in Georgia, the Senate may be more likely to take the bill. But it would also likely need Republican support to hit the 60-vote threshold that most laws need to pass the Chamber.
It is not entirely impossible that this could happen. Senate Republicans have shown a certain openness to collecting police data. For example, the GOP’s proposal for police reform, known as the JUSTICE Act, had the collection of data on the use of force by the police and arrest warrants as a key principle.
Ultimately, the Law on the Costs of Police Misconduct would be a smaller first step towards police accountability than the Justice for George Floyd Law or the Justice Law – but it would be a significant one, especially given the inability of Congress to counter that so far Police act.
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