Congressman's View: Police reform must consider every perspective — including officers’

March 15, 2021
In The News

For over two decades, I had the privilege of serving our community as a Duluth Police officer. As a former officer, I can tell you that there is nothing a good cop dislikes more than a bad cop. That’s why I introduced common-sense police-reform legislation called the JUSTICE Act, along with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. As one of the only law-enforcement officers serving in Congress, I have been honored to lead on this issue.

The JUSTICE Act is the product of my perspective as a police officer from Minnesota and Sen. Scott’s perspective as a Black man from the South. It is legislation that considers police officers who serve our communities honorably and Black Americans who fear violence at the hands of the police. When drafting solutions to something as serious as police reform, it is vital that both of these perspectives are considered.

A majority of the provisions included in the JUSTICE Act have garnered bipartisan support in the past, including those that will increase the number of body cameras, implement duty to intervene and de-escalation training, improve hiring and recruitment practices, and, perhaps most importantly, invest in community policing. When community-policing best practices are correctly executed, you do not police your community, you police with your community. It is a method that builds trust between law-enforcement officers and the community they serve.

Following the tragic death of George Floyd, a majority of Americans agreed that sensible police reform was needed, presenting both parties an opportunity to work together on solutions. Unfortunately, instead of rising to the occasion and working together on the common-sense JUSTICE Act, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies jammed purely partisan policing legislation through the House last Congress — and again last week.

Speaker Pelosi’s police-reform bill fails on many fronts because it doesn’t consider the perspective of law-enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom serve our communities with integrity. In fact, her bill contains several provisions that would make law-enforcement officers less safe and effective on the job, which is why not one single police organization supports her partisan bill. The probability of her bill becoming law is slim to none.

For example, Pelosi’s bill would eliminate no-knock warrants, taking away the necessary element of surprise when suspects are armed and dangerous. Instead of eliminating essential practices like no-knock warrants, my JUSTICE Act would mandate reports on no-knock warrants, helping to identify where errors are being made when executing them and determine if reforms need to be made.

Additionally, Pelosi’s policing bill would abolish qualified immunity, which protects officers from being sued in a civil court when they have followed their department’s training, policies, and procedures. The law enforcement profession is dangerous, and officers often need to make split-second decisions. The outright elimination of this important protection could open officers and their families up to countless frivolous lawsuits, making it impossible to perform their jobs.

My legislation would increase officer accountability in a number of other ways, like requiring law-enforcement agencies to share disciplinary records for hiring purposes, providing $500 million to equip all officers with body cameras, and increasing criminal penalties for those who knowingly falsify a police report.

The dangerous provisions included in Speaker Pelosi’s partisan legislation would make police officers want to leave the profession and prevent potential candidates from entering the profession. Provoking early retirement and hindering recruitment is just a backhanded way of defunding the police.

My bipartisan JUSTICE Act is a far better response to the call for police reform because it would increase transparency, accountability, and performance within police departments nationwide — but without undermining the important role law-enforcement officers play in keeping our communities safe.

I have been disappointed with Pelosi’s purely partisan approach to police reform. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an American issue, and until both sides of the aisle come together to carefully consider every perspective and work on bipartisan solutions, true progress cannot be made. The American people deserve better.