As protests continued around the country over police treatment of black Americans, congressional Democrats unveiled a bill Monday designed to increase accountability and transparency for local law enforcement officials around the country, including school police officers.
House Democrats, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, announced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which would create a national registry to track police misconduct, ban chokeholds nationwide, lower the bar for lawsuits over alleged civil rights allegations by law enforcement officers, and mandate training on discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
In 2017-18, 58 percent of American schools reported having a sworn law enforcement officer on campus at least once a week, federal data show. Civil rights activists have long been concerned that black students are arrested and referred to law enforcement at higher rates than their peers, and that police are sometimes involved in routine discipline that should be handled by school administrators.
Here’s how the bill that would affect school police.
Nationwide School Police Standards
If passed, the bill could lead to more consistent standards for school resource officers, which operate under a patchwork of state and local laws and policies. Some activists have complained that many officers don’t have adequate special training to work with young people in educational environments.
The Justice in Policing Act would require the U.S. attorney general to recommend “the adoption of additional standards that will result in greater community accountability of law enforcement agencies and an increased focus on policing with a guardian mentality.” Those would include national standards for juvenile justice and school safety, the bill says.
The attorney general would make those recommendations in consultation with police accreditation agencies and after reviewing the 2015 recommendations made by President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, which he assembled after police shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Among that task force’s recommendations: School police shouldn’t be involved in routine discipline, officers should work to build positive relationships with young people, and there should be a multi-sector approach to tackling youth justice issues.
The bill would create federal grants for pilot programs to develop new strategies around areas like recruiting, training, and retaining officers, including school police.
Among the issues that grant would cover: “The development of uniform standards on juvenile justice and school safety, including standards relating to interaction and communication with juveniles, physical contact, use of lethal and nonlethal force, notification of a parent or guardian, interviews and questioning, custodial interrogation, audio and video recording, conditions of custody, alternatives to arrest, referral to child protection agencies, and removal from school grounds or campus.”
Military Equipment for School Police
The Justice in Policing Act would place new limits on a federal program that transfers military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, including many school police departments. The program, known as 1033, is a section of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Among those new requirements: a ban on transfers of items like grenade launchers and mine-resistant vehicles, both of which have been previously acquired by school police departments under the 1033 program.
As we wrote recently, several lawmakers in both major parties have proposed eliminating that program all together. Most recently, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii tweeted that he would call for the end of 1033 after photos spread of heavily armed local police at recent protests.
It is clear many police departments don’t train and supervise for restraint and de-escalation, and some officers are just plain racist and violent. Combine this with a President who appears enthusiastic about making it worse, and weaponry transferred from DOD, and here we are.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) May 31, 2020
Support for the Bill
It’s unclear if the bill, which has more than 200 Democratic cosponsors in the House and Senate, will win support from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday President Donald Trump is studying “a number of proposals” for police reform. The administration does not support parts of the Democrats’ bill, she said, including a provision that would curb immunity for police officers in the case of reckless misconduct. Attorney General Bill Barr fears that provision would lead to “police pulling back,” McEnany said.
The bill comes as student activists around the country hope to seize the momentum of demonstrations over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd to push for the removal of officers from their schools. Some leaders, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have said the officers are necessary for school safety.