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Police reform talks stall as law enforcement groups bristle

Meanwhile, Scott – weeks after declaring the police reform talks “June or fail” – said the two sides “still have a ways to go.”

Even if the two sides come to an agreement on the legislation, lawmakers will face the daunting task of selling it to the multiple groups with vested interests in law enforcement policy making, from police unions to groups. defense of civil rights. As the draft provisions leaked over the week, groups trying to influence the final product have moved in.

“We have serious concerns about the current project,” said Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriffs Association. “However, we remain open to the possibility that something balanced and reasonable is achievable.”

Another person involved in the negotiations said the provisions transferring legal responsibility to departments rather than agents in a first draft released by Booker were a “non-starter.”

The bill obtained by POLITICO addresses the controversial issue of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that protects officers from malpractice liability, by attempting to find common ground similar to a proposal launched by Scott. According to the text, “the public employer of this officer is liable to the aggrieved party for the conduct of the officer in legal action, equity proceedings or any other appropriate redress procedure”.

The draft also proposes criminal penalties for officers who “intentionally” use excessive force if the officer “knows” the force is excessive or “knowingly ignores” the risks. It is not clear whether the draft is the most recent version on the table in the talks.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union, said in an interview he was “cautiously optimistic” about the negotiations, but stressed that qualified immunity was still a concern major for its organization.

This protection of the behavior of officers in the workplace was “an essential part of recruiting and retaining the most qualified police officers,” Pasco said, adding that the police “should continue to enjoy the protections of the doctrine of the qualified immunity “.

Booker and Scott are both highly respected within their caucuses, and senators in interviews said any deal between the two would likely win broad support. But Republicans have made it clear that their membership largely depends on where the qualified immunity debate lands.

And negotiations limited to a small group of senators mean last-minute pitfalls could stand in the way.

Senators do not work through “jurisdictional committees where people can table amendments,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “This is how the steam is released and people have the chance to participate in the process.”

Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) Described qualifying immunity as potentially the “first really big trap”.

“I know a number of my colleagues on the Republican side would have the same concern” to leave the police too exposed legally, Hawley said. “Could it be over 40?” I do not know.”

The bill obtained by POLITICO would limit transfers of military materiel to police services – a long-standing goal of advocates who opposed the use of military-grade materiel by local police. In a provision likely to attract opposition from Republicans, the proposal also includes annual appropriations for the development of a program “on the history of racism” through the National Museum of Afro-History and Culture. American.

Any police deal that might emerge from the ongoing talks would also face a surge in the House. Progressive Democrats there balked at compromise proposals that they said would do less to law enforcement reform than the bill passed by the House named for George Floyd, the black man whose murder by the Former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin inspired nationwide protests last year.

Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Herself a former Black Lives Matter activist, said in a statement to POLITICO that her vote depends on whether the final legislation changes qualified immunity or not.

“I have said it before and I will say it again: we compromise, we die. We compromise, we die. If we compromise qualified immunity, the police will continue to kill black people with impunity, ”she said.

Bush and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) Led a group of House Democrats at the end of May by sending a letter to Democratic leaders urging them to keep the qualified immunity provisions in any final legislation, and Bush is set to present his own police reform proposal this month.

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