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Colorado’s Jason Crow launches effort to boost police accountability, federal misconduct investigations

The Aurora Democrat says he began working on the measure last year after the death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old who died during a confrontation with Aurora police in August 2019

Black Lives Matter protesters rallied in downtown Montrose on June 1, 2020, some carrying signs bearing the last words of George Floyd, the black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Demonstrations have occurred in towns and cities across the U.S. protesting police brutality after Floyd's death on May 25, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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A Democratic congressman from Colorado introduced a bill Thursday that seeks to gather racial policing data from across the nation, create a federal task force to investigate local law enforcement misconduct and provide financial incentives to agencies that implement pilot programs to reduce wrongdoing. 

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora. (Handout)

“This should have happened a long time ago,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, who has teamed up with House Democratic colleagues Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, on the measure. “A lot of people have died and been seriously hurt because we haven’t made the change we have to make.”

The bill comes as congressional Democrats seek to introduce a wave of legislation aimed at police accountability in the wake of last week’s death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Floyd’s death has prompted protests across the nation, including seven straight days of demonstrations in Denver

Some of the other proposals being floated by Democrats, who control the U.S. House, include prohibiting officers from using chokeholds and a measure making it easier to sue for misconduct. Floyd died after an office kneeled on his neck for about nine minutes.

There’s also been a bipartisan push to block local law enforcement from being able to procure surplus military gear, which has been used by police and sheriff’s offices to respond to protests. 

MORE: As Denver’s George Floyd protests reach 7th day, police chief holds discussion to “bring about meaningful change”

It’s unclear how the slate of legislation will be met in the Republican-led Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has called Floyd’s death a moment of national pain.

“There may be a role for Congress to play in this,” McConnell said Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The bill being championed by Crow would also send $25 million to the Department of Justice to enforce federal civil rights statutes and direct U.S. Attorney General William Barr to change national law enforcement accreditation standards to include use-of-force procedures.

The legislation seeks to implement guidance issued in May 2015 by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force was created in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which also prompted nationwide protests.

Finally, the bill would provide a distinctive medallion to be issued to the survivors of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty or memorialized on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Crow said the central idea is to try to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, including by ensuring agencies are hiring diverse staff. 

“This is a bill that my office has been working on and other offices have been working on for several months, actually,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow marches with protesters in downtown Denver on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Provided by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow’s office)

Crow said he began working on the legislation late last year in response to the death of Elijah McClain, an unarmed 23-year-old who died during a confrontation with Aurora police in August 2019. Officers were cleared in the encounter, but activists have pointed to McClain’s death as a clear-cut case of brutality and excessive use of force. 

Crow’s legislation doesn’t have any Republican cosponsors, which is a sign it likely faces a steep hill to passage. The congressman says he and his cosponsors want to work across the aisle on the measure.  

Another potential holdup could be cost. The legislation would require all U.S. law enforcement agencies to report data on all traffic stops, pedestrian stops and use of deadly force, including information on whether someone was killed and why the force was used. 

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Crow says the bill provides money to law enforcement agencies and that “just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.” States that don’t comply with the data collection requirements could lose federal funding for law enforcement under the legislation.

Other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are also pushing for change or are a part of policy discussions in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, has asked Democratic leadership to immediately bring to a vote a series of bills and resolutions that condemn police brutality and aim to limit and prevent excessive use of force by law enforcement.

“This is a difficult moment for us,” Perlmutter said in a written statement. “There’s a lot of work to do in this country as we recover from the coronavirus health emergency and its economic fallout and from the inequality and injustice that exists and the violence and unrest it has uncovered. Together, we have to address these issues now.”

Demonstrators convene at the Old Mesa County Courthouse during a Black Lives Matter march and rally for George Floyd in Grand Junction on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Barton Glasser, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Meanwhile, next week the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on racial profiling and police brutality. U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, and Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican, sit on the panel. 

Neguse has also called for a Justice Department investigation into patterns and practices of police misconduct.

The congressional policy comes as state lawmakers in Colorado are trying to make changes of their own around police accountability.

MORE: Colorado Democrats unveil sweeping police accountability bill in response to George Floyd’s death

On Wednesday, Democrats in the state legislature introduced a sweeping measure — Senate Bill 217 — that would require all officers to wear body cameras, make it easier for people to sue law enforcement for wrongdoing and collect racial data on interactions with the public. 

The statehouse bill is expected to get its first hearing in the Colorado General Assembly on Thursday.


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