Updated Sep 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan police reform negotiations end without deal

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Capitol in May 2021.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Capitol in May 2021. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bipartisan talks on reforming police tactics and accountability, prompted by George Floyd's murder in May 2020, have ended without a compromise, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a key negotiator, said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Lawmakers, led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Booker, had been working toward a bipartisan deal for months but things fell apart due to disagreements on qualified immunity and other issues.

  • Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits unless they violate a clearly established constitutional right. It generally means public officials are shielded from an overwhelming majority of civil rights lawsuits.

The House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March but that version was opposed by Scott, the Senate's lone Black Republican, who in turn agreed to work with Bass and Booker on a compromise.

  • Scott specifically disagreed with a complete ban on chokeholds, no-knock warrants and an end to qualified immunity for individual officers accused of excessive force.
  • Booker told the Wall Street Journal that he called Scott on Wednesday to tell him Democrats were done negotiating after Scott didn’t accept their final offer for a compromise.

What they're saying: "[T]here was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal. The time has come to explore all other options to achieve meaningful and common-sense policing reform," Booker said in a statement on Wednesday.

  • “Our sense of urgency remains, but this issue requires a re-engagement of the legislative process. With our counterparts unwilling to come to a compromise, we have no other option than to explore further avenues to stop police brutality in this country," Bass said in a statement.
  • "I am deeply disappointed that Democrats have once again squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform to make our neighborhoods safer and mend the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and communities of color," Scott said in a statement.

The big picture: President Biden has for months urged Congress to pass a police reform bill.

  • "Senate Republicans rejected enacting modest reforms...while refusing to take action on key issues that many in law enforcement were willing to address," Biden said in a statement on Wednesday.
  • "I still hope to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd, because we need legislation to ensure lasting and meaningful change."
"But this moment demands action, and we cannot allow those who stand in the way of progress to prevent us from answering the call."
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland announced this month that the department will implement new rules for federal monitors charged with overseeing mandated police reforms.
  • The DOJ is also pursuing "pattern or practice" investigations into police misconduct at the Phoenix, Louisville and Minneapolis police departments.

Go deeper: DOJ limits use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants

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