Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) has taken the lead in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the JUSTICE Act, legislation that 20-term incumbent says will enhance transparency and accountability in policing.
“I watched the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd who pleaded ‘I can’t breathe’ with horror and disbelief,” Smith said. “Chauvin not only betrayed his solemn duty to serve and protect but he betrayed, as well, police officers throughout the nation who serve with great honor and valor and make enormous sacrifices to protect the innocent and enforce the law.”
The proposal would provide incentives for local law enforcement agencies to ban choke-holds, make lynching a federal hate crime and creates a commission to study policing conditions for black men of all ages, among other things.
“The murder of George Floyd while in custody by a Minneapolis police officer demands justice and has inspired a fresh and comprehensive look at crime and policing,” Smith said. “The JUSTICE Act is a serious, comprehensive and balanced reform initiative—an important step forward.”
Smith’s bill includes $225 million for better police training, including best practices for violence de-escalation and alternatives to the use of force. He says that would reduce injuries and deaths for both law enforcement and criminal suspects.
The JUSTICE Act provides $500 million for “duty-to-intervene” training that would help police develop best practices when they see another officer using excessive force.
An addition $500 million would be spent on a body-worn camera matching grant program.
Smith cited studies that show body-worn cameras reduce complaints against police officers by as much as 90%, and decrease the use of force by 60%.
“Had any one of the three officers on the scene in Minneapolis intervened when George Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, his life could have been saved,” Smith said.
He said funding would also provide better approaches to dealing with suspects with mental health conditions.
Reforms in the bill include requirements to maintain and share disciplinary actions for officer hiring, including reports on the use of force to the FBI, no knock warrant reporting, increased penalties for falsifying police reports, and incentivizing bans on choke-holds.
The congressman has signed onto the measure as an original cosponsor.
The bill is different than the Justice in Policing Act, the police reform bill Democrats introduced last week that would ban choke-holds outright, create a national database to track police brutality and misconduct and make it easier to charge police officers with crimes.
“The JUSTICE Act is a serious, comprehensive and balanced reform initiative—an important step forward,” Smith said.
Editor’s note: this story was updated at 11:22 AM.