A group of lawmakers working on a national police reform bill announced that they had agreed to a “framework” for a bill, meaning that they agree on nothing and a bill is still a long way off.
The media immediately touted a breakthrough but the reality is far different. Republican Senator Tim Scott, as well as Rep. Kim Bass and Senator Cory Booker have made little progress. Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the country, puts it succinctly: “a framework is a long way from language and language is a long way from consensus and consensus is a long way from passage.”
“There is still more work to be done on the final bill, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” the group of legislators said in a joint statement. “Over the next few weeks we look forward to continuing our work toward getting a finalized proposal across the finish line.”
Senator Scott would dearly love an agreement and passage of a bill on which he can run for president. But the dynamics of police reform have changed dramatically since the beginning of the year. Now, voters don’t want “reform” as much as they want more cops on the street and a lower violent crime rate.
Even in places like Minneapolis — where George Floyd’s death sparked riots against police across the country — the impetus for reform has been lost and even advocates are admitting that time may have passed them by.
The murder of George Floyd a year ago brought an idea long considered radical into the mainstream of political debate. Last June, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis City Council members pledged to defund and dismantle the police department.
But now, those same elected officials have softened their tone. And even backers of a police reform proposal headed to the city’s November ballot say their measure would not eliminate armed officers.
In fact, police reform that has been accomplished in many major cities is being rolled back. Politicians’ hyper scrutiny of police has eased somewhat and even national Democrats are calling for more cops on the street.
Thirteen months after the police killing of George Floyd sparked an impassioned movement in the Democratic Party to rein in police departments, a surge in homicides has prompted a shift in the opposite direction. Democrats are scrambling to make new investments in policing and seeking to project toughness on crime, even as they continue pushing for police reforms and alternative means of deterring crime.
Now in control of the White House, Congress and most big cities, Democrats have struggled to contain the deadly violence this year, which is expected to worsen as the summer progresses. They are facing a barrage of criticism from Republicans, who are portraying Democrats as soft on crime as part of a coordinated strategy for next year’s midterm elections.
As for a national police reform bill, it’s hard to see it satisfying activists who want as few police as possible on the streets — preferably unarmed. Since policing is normally a local issue, piling federal rules on top of the already restrictive local rules would only make the cops’ job harder. It won’t solve a single crime or protect a single neighborhood.
It will put the lives of police officers in greater danger, however.