A new bill proposed by a Democratic congressman seeks to create a publicly available federal database that tracks police misconduct allegations and settlements involving police misconduct cases at both the state and federal levels.
Dubbed the Cost of Police Misconduct Act, the idea behind the bill is that putting all of that dirty laundry on full display for anyone to access will act as a deterrent for police misconduct or at the very least, give taxpayers an idea of just how much of their money goes to settle allegations of police malfeasance.
“The whole notion is you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), the incoming chair of the US Congress Joint Economic Committee, told Vox. “So we thought, let’s measure this. And by simply measuring it, we will probably change it a great deal.”
Here’s what information the database—which the U.S. attorney general would be tasked with creating and maintaining—would provide as reported by Vox:
- At which department of agency the officer worked
- The ethnicity, gender identity, and ages of all officers and civilians involved
- The year the misconduct took place, and the year it was reported
- The type of misconduct (for instance, a shooting or an officer planting evidence)
- Any actions taken by the officer following the misconduct (such as a resignation)
- Whether disciplinary action was taken by the officer’s department or agency
- The amount paid out in any settlement
- Where the settlement came from (for instance, from police bonds)
Should the bill pass, law enforcement departments at the federal, state and local levels would have 120 days after the new law takes effect to gather data and send it to the Department of Justice. They would also be required to submit new data every month. State and local governments that fail to comply would be penalized with the loss of up to 10 percent in federal law enforcement funding, and those funds would be redistributed to governments that did comply “to use for criminal justice related work, ranging from drug treatment programs to corrections,” Vox reports.
One thing Beyer appears to be trying to accomplish with this bill is the defunding of police without actually defunding the police. Instead of taking funding from police departments and allocating them to other services, Beyers hopes that the bill will free up funds to be used elsewhere by eliminating police misconduct settlements from government budgets. Of course, that plan hinges on the idea that putting police misconduct on front street will effectively change police behavior.
“I’m optimistic that it will change behavior in some important structural ways,” Beyer told Vox. “And while the point is not just to save money—the point is to reduce police brutality—the money saved, can go to other good things, including continuing to raise the quality of the people who want to be police officers.”
Beyers said that when taxpayers see how much of their money goes to settling claims of police misconduct, “people are going to want to know why. And what did that do to my tax rate? And what could I have done to prevent it? And what’s going on with our police department?”
On its face, the proposal seems like a no-brainer—especially for anyone who wishes to see more accountability for cops and more transparency regarding how misconduct cases are handled—but some activist doubt the efficacy of bills like this citing a crucial point: Putting public pressure on police has never stopped police brutality or misconduct from occurring.
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As activists have long pointed out, decades of public pressure have not yet eliminated the bias that has led police misconduct to fall disproportionately on people of color, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation making crime statistics available has not improved the ability of the police to solve crimes. (The rate of solved crimes has remained fairly stable for several decades, with the FBI reporting that fewer than half of all violent crimes were solved in 2019.)
Still, it’s worth a try. Even if this database does next to nothing to make police officers think twice about how they treat citizens—especially Black people—it’s not like more police transparency could hurt.