Jun 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Inside the Senate GOP plan for police reform

Tim Scott
Sen. Tim Scott. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Republicans are crafting a package of police reforms that would make lynching a federal crime and threaten to cut federal grants if states don't force their police departments to report significantly more detail on officers' use of force, according to two sources familiar with the internal conversations.

Why this matters: Republicans have recognized that it's politically unsustainable to simply hammer a "law-and-order" message, and that they need to propose measures to respond to the national outcry for police reform after the killing of George Floyd.

  • To lead this effort, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) turned to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only African-American in the Republican conference and a senator with a substantial history of proposing criminal justice and police reform legislation.

The big picture: "We don't have the data we need to understand when, where, why and how these tragic incidents are happening in totality," said Sean Smith, communications director for Scott, who is leading the Republican working group on police reform.

Behind the scenes: Other members of the group are Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.).

  • Scott met this afternoon with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and senior official Ja'Ron Smith to share details of the Senate proposal and to discuss where they might find common ground.

Details: Two sources familiar with the Senate working group discussions said the Republican police reform proposal will likely include the following measures:

  1. A federal requirement for states who receive federal grants for law enforcement to report uses of force that cause death or serious injury. If states fail to comply, they could lose 10% of their federal grant money. (This would expand the Walter Scott Notification Act — a bill Scott has been introducing since 2015 — and is viewed as a direct response to the violent act that killed George Floyd. The officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Floyd's neck.)
  2. Require states to provide data on the use of "no knock" search warrants. (This is also an expansion of the Walter Scott Notification Act, and is a direct response to the killing of Breonna Taylor after Louisville police officers used a battering ram to crash into her apartment.)
  3. Expand federal grants to recruit police officers who have similar backgrounds to the communities they serve.
  4. Increase funding for body cameras. This idea is also based on legislation Scott been introducing since 2015 (the Safer Officers and Safer Communities Act). The working group has also been discussing cutting federal grants to states whose police officers fail to to use those body cameras.
  5. Wrap in the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, which would make lynching a federal crime.
  6. Create a "National Criminal Justice Commission" to do a "comprehensive review of the system and make recommendations for reform."

Other ideas they're discussing include tying federal grants to training on alternatives to using force and incentivizing "use of force review boards" (review boards where communities work with police departments in reviewing use of force incidents).

What's next: Senate Republicans are hoping to release the package by the end of this week.

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