A Breakdown of The Justice in Policing Act of 2020

Supermajority Education Fund

June 12, 2020

On June 8, Democrats in the House and Senate introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, a sweeping legislative package they say will change the way police departments operate across the country.

“Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minneapolis: the slow murder of an individual by a uniformed police officer,” Rep. Karen Bass, the chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during the press conference unveiling the legislation. Bass went on to describe the bill as “a bold, transformative vision of policing in America.”

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 was introduced with more than 200 co-sponsors and consists of 10 major parts. Experts say the legislation, which is expected to be brought to the house floor in just a few weeks, was put together exceptionally quickly for a bill of this scope.

“A package this size normally wouldn’t move this quickly, but there are a couple of reasons this bill is moving as fast as it is,” Danny Weiss, a former Chief of Staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. George Miller and a current Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, told Supermajority News. Weiss noted as protests continue across the country, “There is a very high sense of urgency about taking action now to protect people’s lives and to respond politically to the demand for change.”

Supermajority News asked Weiss to break down the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to get a better understanding of what the bill entails.

It does not defund the police. While critics of the bill, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have tweeted suggestions that this bill will defund the police, it doesn’t. “The way this bill uses money is to condition federal support for police on them taking certain actions,” Weiss said. This means that state and local police departments risk losing federal funds unless they take action on banning chokeholds, tracking data, and other measures the bill lays out.

It bans the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants in certain conditions. Police use of chokeholds has been hotly contested since the death of Eric Garner in New York City in 2014, and this bill would finally ban chokeholds by federal police. 

Since the death of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor in her home at the hands of the police in March, activists have also been calling for the end of no-knock warrants, which permit police to enter a residence without announcing themselves first. “This bill would ban no-knock warrants for drug cases on the federal level,” explained Weiss. Federal funding for state and local policing would depend on those districts banning the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants in the aforementioned cases.

It would make dashboard cameras mandatory in federal police vehicles. As it would with no-knock warrants and chokeholds, this legislation would ensure that federal police are required to use dashboard cameras. The bill also says, “state and local law enforcement should use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.” said Weiss.

It would change the definition of “qualified immunity.” As the Washington Post notes, many civil rights advocates have long lobbied for a change in the legal definition of “qualified immunity.” The current definition “really protects police” from being prosecuted after someone is killed or injured in police custody, said Weiss. A new definition “would essentially make it easier for law enforcement to be held accountable in court.”

It would expand the Justice Department’s ability to investigate police misconduct. If this legislation passes, the Department of Justice would also have increased powers when investigating and prosecuting police misconduct. The department’s civil rights division would also be given subpoena power and the ability to begin what is known as “pattern and practice” investigations, which would examine if specific police departments have histories of misconduct. This provision would grant that same subpoena power to state attorneys general.

It would work to end racial profiling by police. The bill “has a provision that would prohibit profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement for racial and religious and other discriminatory aspects of profiling,” Weiss noted. Relatedly, the bill would also require departments to be trained on profiling and its effects.

The military would be prohibited from selling excess equipment to police departments. Some of the most shocking images of protestors in recent years have involved police officers using military-grade equipment in American cities and towns. This law would “try to limit the purchase of military equipment by police,” said Weiss, adding that this use “is really used to intimidate the public.” 

It would create a national database to track police misconduct. Because police departments are run on state and local levels, documenting police cases on a national level is difficult. With the creation of the National Police Misconduct Database, the federal government would be able to track misconduct and disaggregate the data to see which groups are disproportionately affected. Failing to collect relevant data would lead to departments running the risk of losing federal funds, said Weiss. 

It includes an anti-lynching bill. While the Emmett Till Antilynching Act passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year by a vote of 410 to 4, it remains stalled in the Senate due to the filibustering efforts of Tennessee Senator Rand Paul. This bill would “essentially pass it again,” said Weiss.

It would emphasize the police’s role in de-escalating conflict. Throughout this legislative package, there is a focus on de-escalation and coordinating with community activists while solving community disputes. “With a domestic dispute, if a police officer shows up with a gun, chances are the situation is going to escalate,” noted Weiss. “If that police officer was riding with a domestic violence expert or a social worker, you probably have a chance of de-escalating the situation.”