Bennet, Booker, Harris Introduce Sweeping Legislation to Reform Law Enforcement and Strengthen Accountability

Groundbreaking Justice in Policing Act of 2020 Aims To Hold Police Accountable, Increase Transparency, Improve Practices, Training

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in introducing the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, the most comprehensive bill to reform law enforcement and strengthen accountability in our country’s history. The sweeping police reform legislation would hold police accountable in court for egregious misconduct, increase transparency through better data collection, and improve police practices and training. 

“We must act to dismantle centuries of systemic oppression and racism in our country—from slavery and Jim Crow, to redlining and inequalities in our education system, to mass incarceration and the killing of black Americans by law enforcement,” said Bennet. “In the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the fair and overdue demands of protesters across the country, I'm joining Senators Booker and Harris in introducing the Justice in Policing Act. We need a comprehensive approach to improve police training, practices, and accountability. This is one step of many we must take to seek justice and equal protection under the law for black Americans.” 

Last week, Bennet issued a statement following the killing of George Floyd, making a commitment to Coloradans to dismantle systemic racism by working with colleagues on legislation like the Justice in Policing Act, calling out leaders who incite racial division and violence, acting on the fair and overdue demands made by protesters across the country, and being an ally to the black community. 

“America has a serious and deadly problem when it comes to the discriminatory and excessive policing of communities of color - and that policing exists within a system that time and again refuses to hold police accountable for their brutality,” said Booker. “For too long, this has been accepted as a cruel reality of being black in this country. We are forced to figure out how to keep ourselves safe from law enforcement and we are viewed as a threat to be protected against instead of people worth protecting. And for too long, Congress has failed to act. That ends today with the landmark Justice in Policing Act which, for the first time in history, will take a comprehensive approach to ending police brutality. On the back-end, the bill fixes our federal laws so law enforcement officers are held accountable for egregious misconduct and police abuses are better tracked and reported. And on the front-end, the bill improves police practices and training to prevent these injustices from happening in the first place.” 

“America’s sidewalks are stained with Black blood,” said Harris. “In the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, we must ask ourselves: how many more times must our families and our communities be put through the trauma of an unarmed Black man or woman’s killing at the hands of the very police who are sworn to protect and serve them? As a career prosecutor and former Attorney General of California, I know that real public safety requires community trust and police accountability. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this historic legislation that will get our country on a path forward.”

In addition to Bennet, Booker, and Harris, the bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). 

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and 164 U.S. Representatives.  

The bill text is available HERE.  

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would: 

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;
  • Reforming qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that as currently interpreted shields law enforcement officers from being held legally liable for violating an individual’s constitutional rights. 
  • Improving 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; 
  • Incentivizing states to create independent investigative structures for police involved deaths through grants; and
  • Creating best practices recommendations based on President Obama’s 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
  • Mandating 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 camera.                    

Make lynching a federal crime by:

  • Making it a federal crime to conspire to violate existing federal hate crimes laws.   

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights organizations including: Demand Progress, Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, National African American Clergy Network, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Black Millennial Convention, and the National Urban League. 

“The National African American Clergy Network supports the Justice in Policing Bill.  It affirms sacred scripture that everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be protected by police sworn to value and safeguard all lives. Failure by police to uphold this sacred trust with Black Americans lives, requires systemic changes in policing nationwide,” said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., Co-Conveners, The National African American Clergy Network (NAACN). 

“Sometimes difficult circumstances present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about historic change,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. "The brutal actions of police in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, along with botched execution of a no-knock warrant that killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the brazen vigilante execution of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, have pushed the nation to the tipping point.”

“For the past four-plus centuries, Black people have continuously been made to endure unfair, unjust, and inhumane treatment in this country. We have been made to believe in that if we worked hard, never complained, and accepted what the world offered that would be enough. What the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others have taught us is that obedience will never be enough; liberty and justice for all applies to everyone but us; and by us, we mean Black Americans, African Americans, Afro-Americans, or plainly put, Black people,” said Waikinya J.S.Clanton, MBA Black Millennial Convention.