EDITORIAL: Common ground not to be found
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EDITORIAL: Common ground not to be found

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It’s not hard to believe that most Americans do not favor efforts to defund police departments. But it comes as no surprise that a majority sees the need for reforms that will bring together police and the public while better serving and protecting both.

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released this past week found only 25% of Americans favor reducing law enforcement funding.

But the same poll shows Americans overwhelmingly want clear standards on when police officers may use force and consequences for officers who do so excessively. The poll also finds there is strong support for penalizing officers who engage in racially biased policing. Americans are more likely now than five years ago to say that police violence against the public is a very serious problem and that officers who cause injury or death on the job are treated too leniently.

Americans are largely united behind the idea that action is required: 29% think the criminal justice system needs "a complete overhaul," 40% say it needs "major changes" and 25% say it needs "minor changes." Just 5% believe no changes are necessary.

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On the national level, Congress indicated it had gotten the message, with both houses working on legislation to make significant changes in policing standards. And therein lies the problem. Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House. And despite the national outcry, partisanship seemingly will not let them come together to take action.

House Democrats, with only three GOP representatives voting with them, have passed legislation, but it is unlikely to be considered in the Senate.

In the Senate, the rules make it such that a handful of Democratic votes is needed to get legislation engineered by S.C. Sen. Tim Scott to the floor for debate. Not a single Democrat would vote to do so.

Democrats claim the Republican bill does not go far enough with reforms, though the competing legislative proposals both address key issues.

On reporting police misconduct, Democrats want a registry of all officers that compiles misconduct complaints, disciplinary records, certifications and termination notices. The GOP plan would require agencies to keep personnel and disciplinary records for 30 years, including substantiated allegations of misconduct, and would require an agency hiring an officer to review the records.

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On use-of-force reporting, Democrats would require states to notify the Justice Department of any instance of use of force against a civilian or an officer. Republicans would require state and local jurisdictions to report misconduct to the FBI for inclusion in a national database.

On police bias training, Democrats would mandate training on racial, religious or other discriminatory profiling and would condition federal funding on adoption of policies to combat profiling. Republicans would fund a racism education program created by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Democrats would end no-knock warrants in drug cases and ban chokeholds, while Republicans would require reporting on no-knock warrants and mandate that local agencies adopt policies restricting use of chokeholds except where deadly force is authorized.

Both address use of body cameras by police, but Democrats mandate them while Republicans create a grant program to provide them to local police.

Both parties take a stand against lynching, with Democrats making it a hate crime and Republicans adding an anti-lynching conspiracy provision to federal law.

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The key difference, it appears, is over “qualified immunity.” Democrats would allow individuals to sue and recover damages when police violate their rights. The GOP legislation does not address the issue.

Now that the House has its bill, there should be debate on the GOP legislation in the Senate. Approval there of the GOP plan would mean a select group of senators and representatives works as a conference committee on a final bill that could be approved in both houses. Compromise would be necessary in building the final version.

Sadly, in the Washington of today, even getting to the point of considering a compromise does not seem possible. Though both sides contend a reform package is so vital, neither is willing to cede perceived political advantage to the other. Impasse is again the result.

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