Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, joined her Republican House colleagues Thursday in introducing a policing reform bill.
The Justice Act, a House companion bill to the Senate legislation unveiled the day prior, would offer federal incentives to police departments that ban chokeholds, enhance reporting requirements for use-of-force incidents and no-knock warrants and create an emergency grant program for body-worn cameras.
Lawmakers are under pressure to take action. Protests continue to surge across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody, sparking wider fury about entrenched systems that enable police brutality and racial injustice. Floyd died after an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes.
Herrera Beutler has previously said in a social media post that Floyd’s death made her angry.
“Anger that these individuals abused their authority and taunted bystanders who protested the abuse as it was happening. Anger that these officers didn’t even seem to think of Mr. Floyd as a fellow human being,” Herrera Beutler wrote. “Racial injustice is real, and it must not be tolerated at any level.”
The bill would additionally make lynching a federal crime and form a commission to study challenges facing Black men and boys. It also criminalizes police officers who sexually engage with people in custody — already illegal in Washington, but still permitted in 32 states.
Herrera Beutler was one of 112 members of Congress to back the bill on the House floor this week.
“It’s time for Congress to take action to make sure every single one of us is treated equally, has the same access to justice, and can count on law enforcement to keep us safe,” Herrera Beutler said in a media release.
She added that the bill would “ultimately bring about positive changes to policing practices so our law enforcement can continue to responsibly protect and serve our communities, while also working to end racial injustice.”
The new legislation is Republicans’ answer to Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced on June 7.
The Democrats’ version of the bill includes many similar provisions, but goes further to penalize police officers who use excessive force — it would lower the criminal intent standard from “willful” to “reckless” when prosecuting officers in federal court, and it would grant the Department of Justice subpoena power to investigate police departments for discrimination.
It would also limit qualified immunity, which shields individual police officers from being held personally liable in civil suits.
The Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the more sweeping version of the bill.
In her earlier social media post, Herrera Beutler said she believes that the majority of police officers are “good people doing a difficult and dangerous job for the right reasons.”
“I’ll continue fighting to get our law enforcement officers the training and resources they need to respond appropriately to these situations,” she wrote.
In Clark County, training and resources are the subject of renewed public scrutiny.
Floyd’s death revived interest among residents about body-worn cameras. However, the push for cameras started in early 2019, when Vancouver police fatally shot three people over the course of a little more than a month. Officers shot and killed another person two months ago during an altercation.
Following the 2019 shootings, leaders with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Vancouver Police Department had initially called body-worn cameras a low priority, pointing to the cost of storing and managing thousands of hours of footage.
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