In response to the unrest in Ferguson last year, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is unveiling a bill to impose more control and restrictions on the equipment and money that federal law-enforcement agencies provide to local police departments.
“The bottom line is, this equipment saves lives, but these programs need reform,” said McCaskill, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, in a conference call Thursday with reporters. “And that’s exactly what this bill would do.”
Among other things, she said, hearings and federal investigations made clear “that we were giving equipment that was not proportional to the needs of the communities. We found examples where hundreds of weapons were being given to very small departments.”
McCaskill emphasized that her bill has the support of many in law enforcement, as well as the NAACP. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar are among the supporters, McCaskill said.
“This isn’t about attacking the police in this country,” the senator said. “This is about reforming a program and I think it is refreshing for everyone to remember that the police want to do the best job possible.”
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, plans to introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House next week. The senator’s bill was filed first because the Senate is in session this week, Clay's spokesman said.
Said Clay in a statement: "Our bill directly addresses the excessive militarization of local police, which I witnessed first-hand in Ferguson.
“It will also mandate new standards for sensitivity training to help officers interact more effectively with racially and ethnically diverse communities, new immigrants, the mentally ill, and disabled Americans. This enhanced training will protect both the public and police officers by helping to de-escalate volatile situations before they lead to the use of force.”
The provisions of McCaskill’s bill, the “Protecting Communities and Police Act,” include:
- A task force to work with the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice "to determine what equipment is suitable for law enforcement, what should be prohibited, and what should require higher-level approval and local input.”
- Funding "for the purchase and maintenance of body cameras, dashboard cameras, gun cameras, and related costs, including maintenance and storage of footage.”
- Use of DOJ to "collect and analyze data on the use and deployment of SWAT teams.”
- Requirement that a law enforcement agency "publish its request and obtain approval from the law enforcement agency’s state or local executive" before requesting money for "tactical vehicles, camouflage, weapons over a certain caliber, grenades and flash bang grenades."
- Establishment of "whistleblower protections, public hotlines for misuse of grant funding and equipment.”
- Restricts law enforcement agencies "with fewer than 10 sworn full-time law enforcement officers from purchasing or obtaining a tactical military vehicle if the law enforcement agency already has one."
- Policies for use, retention, and chain of custody” for video camerasx.
- Law enforcement agencies under consent decrees by the DOJ for civil rights abuses or excessive use of force are prevented "from receiving most weapons or funding to procure weapons without the approval of DOJ.”
- "Establishes annual training requirements for law enforcement officers, including training for deployment of SWAT teams."