Republicans Enter Policing Debate With New Task Force
Republicans have, for the most part, avoided one of the thorniest debates roiling the country in recent months: How does the United States begin to address the crisis ofÂ people, often minorities, being killed in violent encounters with police?
Now, 11Â House GOP lawmakers think itâ€™sÂ time Republicans enter the fray.
On Wednesday, 10 House Republicans and one Republican senator (Roy BluntÂ of Missouri)Â will officiallyÂ launch a task forceÂ aimed atÂ empowering the GOP in ongoing discussions on improvingÂ relationships between policeÂ and the communities they serve.
According to an early preview of the law enforcement task forceâ€™sÂ mission provided to CQ Roll Call,Â the operation isÂ being bolstered by the infrastructure of the House Republican Policy Committee â€” whose chairman, Rep.Â Luke MesserÂ of Indiana, is an enthusiastic participant.
Messer said Tuesday it was important to â€œpush past the caricaturesâ€ and perceptionsÂ that Democrats standÂ with civilians and RepublicansÂ only care about police officers.
â€œRepublicans care about law enforcement and Republicans care about the citizens law enforcement protects,â€ MesserÂ said. â€œWe need to haveÂ a voice in this debate, and it needs to be more than just words.â€
The real force behind the effort is Rep.Â Dave Reichert, R-Wash.,Â the former King County sheriff who capped his 33-year law enforcement career with the capture of the Green River serial killer.
Reichert â€” still calledÂ â€œthe Sheriffâ€ by colleagues on both sides of the aisle â€” has spent six termsÂ in the HouseÂ fighting for increasedÂ funding for community-policing initiatives and trying toÂ make the case Congress has a responsibility to help local law enforcement agencies, despite a prevalent sentimentÂ among many Republicans that statesÂ need to fend for themselves.
â€œWhen we say in theÂ federal government we donâ€™t have a role in local law enforcement, weâ€™re wrong,â€ Reichert explained, seatedÂ beside Messer for the Tuesday interview. â€œMore and more and more we should be engaged in that, not in the day-to-day operations but just in providing the high standards, providing grants that help them.â€
Reichertâ€™s expertise qualifies himÂ to be a spokesman for the cause, asÂ does the range of his perspective and sensitivity to various facets of law-enforcement disputes.
On one hand, heÂ said Tuesday, he can relate to the white police officer in Cambridge, Mass., who infamously arrested renownedÂ black historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 2009 while Gates was trying to get into his own home.
President Barack Obama called the officerâ€™s actionâ€™s â€œstupid,â€ resulting in a White House â€œbeer summitâ€ in which the president sought toÂ reconcile differences over drinks.
â€œI have been in that position so many times, answering a call and coming across the homeowner,â€ Reichert said. â€œThe alarm goes off, you show up, youâ€™re speeding there [at] 100 miles an hour, the lights and sirens are going, you jump out of theÂ car, you sneak up on the house, youâ€™re thinking youâ€™re gonna find a crook, and you get there and you end up finding a homeowner in the basement trying to turn the alarm [off] and you donâ€™t know if heâ€™s a crook or the homeowner.
â€œSo the first thing I do,â€ he said, â€œis I got my gun out, put him on the floor, Iâ€™m gonna handcuff him and Iâ€™m gonna figure it out.â€
At the same time, Reichert said some of the videos heâ€™s seenÂ of recent high-profile clashes between police and civilian have left him â€œbaffled.â€
â€œItâ€™s obvious that some police departments, some police officers, need some additional training, because some of the actions you see on YouTube and on TV â€” as an experienced deputy, Iâ€™m looking at these things and shaking my head and thinking, â€˜Why in the world would you yank somebody out of the car who was stopped because they failed to signal? And get into an argument with them to the point where youâ€™re threatening to use a taser?â€™ It should never be accelerated, a stopÂ should never be accelerated,â€ he said.
ReichertÂ didnâ€™t name names, but thatâ€™s the story of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-oldÂ black woman who appearsÂ to have hanged herself in her Texas jail cell on July 13 as her family sought to meet bail.
Reichert and Messer are focused on a more holistic approach to preventing another Baltimore, another Ferguson, Mo.
â€œWeâ€™re not going to come up with a whole bunch of pre-conceived ideas â€¦ or biases,â€ Messer said â€” but both lawmakers said they were prepared to confront the reality that multiple playersÂ could be at fault, police included.
Their currentÂ planÂ is toÂ holdÂ at least one hearing on Capitol Hill and thenÂ travelÂ to different communities to meet with relevant stakeholders.Â Ultimately, they want toÂ be able to produce recommendations thatÂ getÂ toÂ the root causes of the disintegration of trust between civiliansÂ and police.
One recommendation, Messer and ReichertÂ said, could be increased funding for police body cameras, which could increase accountability for â€œbad actorsâ€Â in the law enforcement community.
Thatâ€™s something for which many House Democrats and Sen.Â Tim ScottÂ of South Carolina, the Senateâ€™s only black Republican, have advocated, and anÂ openness to exploring that remedy could go a long way in showing the congressional task force is taking its job seriously, free fromÂ partisan inclinations.
In fact,Â Messer and ReichertÂ said theyÂ hoped Democrats would be willing toÂ collaborate with them, perhaps forming their own DemocraticÂ task force with the goal of eventually combining forces.
Reichert said heâ€™d had discussions with his co-chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, Rep.Â Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., the former mayor of Patterson.
â€œIf David would want me to do that,â€ Pascrell told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday afternoon, â€œand he thinks thereâ€™s some productivityÂ that couldÂ come out of it, then yes.â€
OtherÂ Republicans on the task force include a sheriff (Rep.Â Rich NugentÂ of Florida), a deputy sheriff (Veteransâ€™ Affairs ChairmanÂ Jeff MillerÂ of Florida) and a police officer (Rep.Â Steve KnightÂ of California); two U.S. attorneys (Rep.Â Susan W. BrooksÂ of IndianaÂ andÂ John KatkoÂ of New York); a judge (Rep.Â Ted PoeÂ of Texas); a mayor (Rep.Â Mia LoveÂ of Utah), and former Homeland Security ChairmanÂ Peter T. KingÂ of New York.