Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are holding out hope that Democrats will have increasing power in the Senate.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are among the lawmakers who plan to press for legislation this week that would respond to George Floyd’s death.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are among the lawmakers who plan to press for legislation this week that would respond to George Floyd’s death.

Washington – Prodded by a national uproar over police brutality, lawmakers – including Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy – plan to introduce a series of police reform bills this week.

Some of the more ambitious legislation may face pushback by congressional Republicans who also want to take action but prefer a more “hands off” approach. But there is bipartisan consensus that Congress needs to act.

Drafted by the Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.,  who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.Y. and Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif.  a bill slated to be introduced on Monday aims to address the excessive use of police force by curbing “qualified immunity.”

That’s a legal doctrine that shields police officers and other government officials from being sued for actions performed within their official capacity, unless those actions violate the law or someone’s constitutional rights.

To provide greater transparency of police  behavior, the bill would grant subpoena power to the Justice Department to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of potential misconduct and help states conduct independent investigations.

That bill, called the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, and other legislation that will be unveiled this week, would mark the first federal effort to overhaul policing spurred by a string of police-involved killings of black men and women, including the choking death last month of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wanted to press for the broadest reforms possible.

“Let’s take this moment to be an inflection point, a pivotal one, that we are going to not just proceed incrementally but in a very strong way to do things differently,” Pelosi said.

The furor over Floyd’s killing and the issue of racial injustice has prompted Republicans to say they want reforms, too.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he believes Democrats and Republicans can find “common ground,” such as tying federal funds to better police training and ensuring that bad officers can be removed.

“I believe this is a moment for us,” McCarthy said. “I hope that, in this moment in time, Congress rises to the occasion. Because I will tell you, from the (lawmakers) that I have talked to on both sides of the aisle, there’s a great desire to do that.”

But what steps Congress will ultimately take – or can take – are unclear. John DeCarlo, a professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven and a former Branford police chief, said most of the nation’s 700,000 police officers work for towns, cities and counties and are out of reach of the federal government.

But Congress can set standards for training and establish a certification database, he said. The United States could also follow Great Britain’s lead and establish a national office of policing, DeCarlo added.

Lawmakers asked congressional researchers to determine what they could do under the U.S. Constitution to police local cops and discovered that the options are limited.

“The U.S. Constitution established a federal government of limited powers,” said a report by the Congressional Research Service in response to their queries. “A general police power is not among them. That authority is largely reserved for the states.”

But the CRS report said Congress could use its power of the purse to “encourage states to take or refrain from various activities,” including implementing police reforms that include a better way to eliminate bad cops from a force.

The CRS also said the federal government can investigate civil rights abuses committed by a police department under current civil rights laws.

While Congress’s powers are limited, the number of policing bills introduced since Floyd’s death last month is steadily increasing, and Pelosi has vowed to bring back the U.S. House to vote as soon as its package of policing reforms is ready for the floor, likely by the end of June.

For example, a bill sponsored by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., named the George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, calls for new national policing standards and accreditation, as DeCarlo recommended.

The bill would also require every state, local and federal law enforcement agency to provide data to the Department of Justice on the use of deadly force by and against police officers, along with data on traffic and pedestrian stops, and to create a new task force to investigate and prosecute cases of law enforcement misconduct.

The moment of reckoning is long overdue.”— U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy

Blumenthal, meanwhile, is pressing for action on the Police Training and Independent Review Act.  The legislation, which Blumenthal said is modeled after state laws, would provide cities and states resources sources for training, screening of recruits and evaluation of police officers.

“The nation should take (Connecticut’s) protocols and widen them across the country,” Blumenthal said at a joint press conference with fellow senator Murphy in Hartford on Friday.

Blumenthal also said the legislation would establish an independent prosecutor to investigate cases of police wrongdoing.

Murphy and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plan to introduce legislation this week that would require federal officers in uniform at demonstrations to have their agencies and names visibly marked. Murphy said President Donald Trump is “trying to intimidate peaceful protesters by having unidentified and unaccountable federal law enforcement officers assigned to the protests.

He also said the widespread anger Floyd’s death has ignited is understandable.

“The moment of reckoning is long overdue,” Murphy said. “African-Americans have been prosecuted and hunted down for decades and centuries in this country.”

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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6 Comments

  1. This is NOT DIFFICULT, if you want to weed out the bad apples, you should implement psychological testing of applicants, and periodic testing of those who have been on the force for a while. This was required when I worked at Millstone nuclear plant, and our union did not oppose the requirement.

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for your submission. We’re happy to publish it. That said, please make sure to sign future comments with both your name and town, as required under our new comments policy.

  2. So when the lawyer politician’s state their oath to uphold the constitution, are they only words? Are we ready to protect ourselves without police departments? Both these politicians are using the media to strengthen their own biases. So when Murphy calls for protection for his Washington DC home, is not the police who he would call? Then we have Blumenthal in his estate that is protected by whom? So when both politicians think that they only deserve the protection and the rest of us are to just go with the flow.
    Will the media also include that most of the unrest in in cities that are controlled by Democrats. Chicago, New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles all have democrat mayors. What is the common denominator when looking a riot damage? All cities with extensive damage have democrat mayors but this is somehow the republicans fault.

    1. Hi Lawrence, thanks for your submission. We’re happy to publish it. That said, please make sure to sign future comments with both your name and town, as required under our new comments policy.

  3. The Blumenthal/Murphy bill that federalizes state police departments is not a serious legislative measure. It is a campaign document. Real federalization of police stations in states could be used to eliminate so called “sanctuary cities,” and neither senator would favor such a proposal. Does Blumenthal favor the elimination of partial immunity from ALL prosecutorial offices, including that of attorney general? For two decades, he used his partial immunity as attorney general to prevent legitimate judicial opposition to prosecutorial overreach in his own office. Allowing citizens to sue attorneys general for misprosecution might not be a bad idea, but it is not one Blumenthal would be likely to favor.

    1. Hi Don, thanks for your submission. We’re happy to publish it. That said, please make sure to sign future comments with both your name and town, as required under our new comments policy.

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