Introduced by Rep. Don Beyer, the Cost of Police Misconduct Act vows to create a public database of police misconduct settlements and allegations across the country.
Police misconduct settlements have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. When the government settles jail death or police brutality cases, the details of the officers’ violations are often kept behind a veil of secrecy.
The public seldom has access to information about how much State, local, and federal governments have paid to settle prison neglect or wrongful death lawsuits. It is equally hard to find information about which law enforcement officers or prison guards have been named in misconduct lawsuits.
When a correctional officer physically abuses an inmate or a police officer beats up a helpless suspect, the culprits seldom lose their jobs, let alone pay for their horrendous crimes.
According to Rep. Beyer, the new legislation will provide important data that may become a catalyst for reform. “The whole notion is you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Beyer told reporters. “So we thought, let’s measure this. And by simply measuring it, we will probably change it a great deal.”
Naturally, keeping track of settlements will not end police brutality. If what the government is trying to do is save money, victims and their families might suffer; what we need is not legislation that discourages rightful payments to the victims but a thorough reform of how the government deals with police misconduct.
In spite of these potential shortcomings, the bill is welcome because it may help the public get a sense of just how costly police misconduct is in our country.
Under the proposed legislation, every police misconduct allegation should be made public, including:
- Officer’s department
- Gender and ethnicity of law enforcement officers and civilians involved
- Year the misconduct occurred/was reported
- Type of misconduct
- Disciplinary actions taken, if any
- Settlement amounts if applicable
The bill establishes that 120 days after its enactment, law enforcement groups must begin sending police misconduct data to the DOJ. Failing to comply with the bill’s provisions will result in penalties and could defund delinquent police departments by up to 10 percent.
It would then fall upon the attorney general to compile annual police misconduct data, and the Government Accountability Office would release a thorough report every 24 months.
Law enforcement officers are known for protecting each other in the face of police misconduct claims. Even if the bill is passed, there is bound to be some resistance. We will need courageous and honest law enforcement authorities for the legislation to achieve its goals.
The prospect of a House of Representatives with a majority of Democrats under President Biden seems promising for Beyer´s bill, which has garnered support from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), the next chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Following the vote in Georgia, Democrats have also won control of the Senate, but it will take some Republican support for the legislation to prevail in the highest legislative chamber.
Last year saw many cases of egregious misconduct. A recent journalistic investigation revealed that jail death is rampant in our country, and human rights advocates see any legislation that may increase police accountability as a welcome development.
We can no longer allow murderers and abusers to keep wearing a badge and systematically violating the rights of prisoners and arrestees. Even if the family of a deceased inmate received millions of dollars in a settlement, the public deserves to know what happened and how much of our taxpayer funds are being used to compensate police misconduct victims.
If the Cost of Police Misconduct Act is passed in 2021, it will likely become much harder for law enforcement groups to protect bad cops.