Embracing a new priority, US President Donald Trump is set to announce executive actions on police procedures and Senate Republicans are preparing a package of policing changes as Republicans seek to respond to mass demonstrations over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.
It is a sudden shift for the Republican Party, one Democrats are watching warily as they advance broader police reform legislation in the US House of Representatives. The crush of activity shows how quickly the mass protests over police violence and racial prejudice are transforming politics in the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that Republicans are developing “a serious proposal to reform law enforcement”.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will gavel in Tuesday afternoon for an extensive hearing on Police Use of Force and Community Relations, drawing testimony from the nation’s leading civil rights and law enforcement leaders.
“Now is the time to reimagine a more fair and just society in which all people are safe,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, will tell senators, according to advance testimony.
The nationwide outcry “is anything but a reaction to one isolated incident or the misconduct of a few ‘bad apples'”, Gupta says. “The outcry is a response to the other horrific killings of Black people by police.”
While the emerging GOP package is not as extensive as sweeping Democratic proposals, which are headed for a House vote next week, it includes perhaps the most far-reaching proposed changes to policing procedures from Republicans, a party long aligned with a “law and order” approach.
Trump’s executive order would include establishing a database that tracks police officers who garner complaints about excessive use of force in their records, according to two senior administration officials who briefed reporters in advance of Tuesday’s announcement.
It would establish a national credential system that would give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices. The two officials briefed reporters on the executive order on the condition that they not be identified.
Senator Tim Scott, the sole African American Republican in the Senate, has been crafting the Republican legislative package, which will include new restrictions on police chokeholds and greater use of police body cameras, among other provisions.
Scott, who said he spoke with Trump about the legislation during the weekend, warned Monday that pushing voting in Congress on police reform to a late date would be a “bad decision”.
In Atlanta, the weekend shooting and death of Rayshard Brooks, an African American man, by a white officer led to a renewed public outcry, more street protests and the police chief’s resignation.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York is among those urging Republicans not to settle for minor changes.
“Now is the time to seek bold and broad-scale change,” Schumer said Monday.
With the political debate fluid, it is unclear whether the parties will be able to find common ground. The proposals emerging from Democrats and Republicans share many similar provisions but take different approaches to address some of the issues. Neither bill goes as far as some activists want in their push to “defund the police” by fully revamping departments.
Central to the Republican package would be the creation of the national database to improve transparency so officers cannot transfer from one department to another without public oversight of their records. The Democrats have a similar provision.
Yet the Republican bill does not go as far as the Democrats do on the issue of eliminating the legal protection for police of “qualified immunity,” which would enable those injured by law enforcement personnel to sue for damages. White House officials have said that goes too far. As an alternative, Scott has suggested a “decertification” process for officers involved in misconduct.
One large police union, the influential Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement it is working with Congress and the White House on the proposals, having provided “feedback” on the Democratic bill and “substantial input” on the emerging GOP package.