Saturday, June 27, 2020

Community Trust and Law Enforcement

Phil Roe
by Phil Roe - In the weeks since George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, our country has debated how to ensure that police officers are best serving our communities.

As I have said before, the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are good men and women, and the actions of a few bad actors are not representative of all officers.

However, we also recognize that the actions of bad officers erode community trust and make it harder for good officers to do their jobs. We should hold officers who engage in wrongdoing accountable for their actions, while ensuring that good officers still have the resources they need to serve and protect us. That is why I am a cosponsor of H.R. 7278, the JUSTICE Act, introduced by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) and Representative Pete Stauber (R-MN), which will enact a number of reforms to do just that.

The JUSTICE Act would require state and local governments to report more information on police use of force and the use of no-knock warrants and would create a new grant to help jurisdictions meet these reporting requirements. This information will help law enforcement develop training and best practices on de-escalation methods.

This legislation would also take steps to hold bad actors accountable by incentivizing the use of body-worn cameras, increasing penalties for falsifying police reports, and requiring jurisdictions to limit chokeholds as a condition for receiving certain federal grants. The bill would also require police departments to keep employment and disciplinary record of officers for at least 30 years to ensure that departments know about any past incidents involving those officers they are considering hiring.

Additionally, the bill will provide training resources so that good officers can continue to do their jobs well. The JUSTICE Act requires the U.S. Department of Justice to develop training on alternatives to use of force, de-escalation techniques, and how to respond to behavioral health crises. The bill also implements steps to study the conditions and causes of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and would make lynching a federal crime. Altogether, the reforms in the JUSTICE Act will ensure that officers have the tools they need to do their jobs better and will restore community trust in the police.

Last week, President Trump issued an executive order to increase transparency and accountability in law enforcement. This executive order provides incentives to state and local law enforcement agencies to seek independent credentialing to certify that they comply with the latest standards on use of force, de-escalation, and community management. The order also directs the Department of Justice to develop a program to facilitate information sharing between departments and directs the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to identify opportunities to improve law enforcement agencies’ ability to respond to mental health crises. I applaud the president’s executive order; I believe it will ensure that officers and law enforcement agencies are well trained and equipped to serve our communities. Police officers have an incredibly difficult job.

Unfortunately, this week, the House Democrats brought to the floor a bill that will make their jobs even harder. I voted against this bill because it would drastically lower the standards for charging an officer with criminal misconduct and will weaken legal protections for police. These changes would put the police at risk of jail time or lawsuits just for doing their jobs. In addition, the bill would create a public registry of disciplinary records, lawsuits and settlements, and complaints against federal, state, and local police officers, including complaints that have not been adjudicated yet. We certainly want to hold bad actors accountable, but publicly shaming officers for unadjudicated complaints that have not yet been afforded due process is wrong. If these so-called “reforms” are enacted, then police will have an even more difficult job, and I have no doubt that many good people would no longer even consider becoming a law enforcement officer with these changes in place.

I have also heard some people call for “defunding the police” or establishing police-free “autonomous zones.” These are offensive ideas. Policy needs to be based on real reforms, not slogans, and I will oppose any efforts to defund the police.

The brave men and women in law enforcement are deserving of our constant thanks and praise for their hard work. As we consider reforms to law enforcement, we should continue to stand behind them as they serve our communities.

Phil Roe represents the First Congressional District of Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is physician and co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus and a member of the Health Caucus. Prior to serving in Congress, he served as the Mayor of Johnson City, Tennessee.

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