Police Reform Bill Begins Moving Through Congress


By: Andy Treese

The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 1280, the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021,” a police reform bill with potentially sweeping ramifications for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. If enacted in its current form, the bill would reach police tactics, training, policies, and accountability. Among other things, the Act proposes to:

  1. Abolish qualified immunity for local, state, and federal law enforcement officers as a defense to claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983;
  2. Create a use of force standard governing the conduct of federal law enforcement officers;
  3. Limit the circumstances in which federal law enforcement officers may assert that a use of force was justified, and require state and local governments to adopt a similar statute to remain eligible for Byrne grant funding;
  4. Prohibit federal law enforcement officers from applying chokeholds or carotid holds, and require state and local governments to adopt a legislative ban on such holds in order to remain eligible for COPS and Byrne grant funding;
  5. Ban the use of no-knock warrants at the federal level in drug cases, and require state and local governments to adopt a legislative ban on no-knock warrants in drug cases in order to remain eligible for COPS and Byrne grant funding;
  6. Require agencies receiving Byrne grants to spend a portion of their funding on purchasing body cameras and implementing policies related to the use of such cameras, and prohibit the use of grant funds to implement facial recognition technology;
  7. Create a National Police Misconduct Registry;
  8. Prohibit racial and religious profiling by law enforcement, and mandate training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling;
  9. Grant the Department of Justice the authority to subpoena records when pursuing investigations that law enforcement officers and agencies have engaged in a pattern and practice of violation civil rights, and creates a cause of action for state attorneys general to pursue such actions;
  10. Lower the mens rea element required for the criminal prosecution of defendants accused of violating the rights of another under color of law under 18 U.S.C. 242, making it easier for federal prosecutors to charge and convict law enforcement officers; and
  11. Limit the transfer of military grade equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Though the same bill stalled in 2020, it has been the subject of renewed legislative and media attention since the start of the new Congressional session and seems unlikely to “drop off the radar” in the near future.  It has already been received by the Senate, where it has not yet been referred to committee but is expected to face opposition not only from police advocacy groups, but from state and local officials with an interest in understanding its reach into local government finance and operations.  Please contact Andy Treese if you have questions or would like further information about the bill.  Otherwise, FMG’s Government Practice Section will continue to monitor police reform legislation and to relay significant developments.