Washington, DC – Bipartisan police reform talks were scuttled on Wednesday after the lawmakers tasked with heading up the negotiations announced they had hit a stalemate.
U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-California) spent months trying to negotiate a workable compromise on police reform legislation, Politico reported.
But lawmakers said on Sept. 22 that they had hit an impasse over “qualified immunity.”
Qualified immunity is the controversial legal doctrine that shields police officers from liability for civil damages for actions taken while acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officers, as long as the officer didn’t violate a person’s established rights.
If an officer violates a person’s legally-established rights, they are not eligible to claim qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity does not offer any protection from criminal charges but was established by the U.S. Supreme Court to curb gratuitous litigation against police officers.
On a practical level, it allows law enforcement officers to make arrests and split-second decisions regarding use of force without fear of constantly having to defend themselves personally from damages, as long as their actions were legal at the time.
Even if officers are shielded under qualified immunity, people are still able to sue the officer’s law enforcement agency for damages.
Republican lawmakers have stood firmly against getting rid of qualified immunity, so much so that negotiators considered dropping the doctrine from the police reform package entirely.
However, Booker couldn’t sell that version of police reform to Democrats.
“After months of exhausting every possible pathway to a bipartisan deal, it remains out of reach right now,” Booker said in a statement. “Unfortunately, even with this law enforcement support and further compromises we offered, there was still too wide a gulf with our negotiating partners and we faced significant obstacles to securing a bipartisan deal.”
Bass blamed Senate Republicans for moving the goalposts, The Hill reported.
Democrats “accepted significant compromises, knowing that they would be a tough sell to our community, but still believing that we would be moving the needle forward on this issue. But every time, more was demanded to the point that there would be no progress made in the bill that we were left discussing,” the angry congresswoman from California said.
Scott said he was “deeply disappointed” by the outcome but pointed the blame back at Democrats, The Hill reported.
“Democrats have once again squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform to make our neighborhoods safer and mend the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” Scott said.
“I offered to introduce a bill that included our areas of compromise—a bill that activists and law enforcement alike could have supported,” he continued, The Hill reported. “Despite having plenty of agreement, Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement.”
“Crime will continue to increase while safety decreases, and more officers are going to walk away from the force because my negotiating partners walked away from the table,” Scott added.
Booker said that the negotiating team had made its best effort, Politico reported.
“The effort from the very beginning was to get police reform that would raise professional standards, police reform that would create a more transparent way, one that would create accountability and we were not able to come to agreements on those three big areas,” Booker said. “It was clear to me that we weren’t making any more substantive progress.”
He said they couldn’t even codify former President Donald Trump’s executive order that established guidelines for law enforcement and incentives for local police departments to show they met use-of-force and de-escalation training standards, according to Politico.
The failed negotiations likely mean that police reform legislation – specifically a sweeping bill named after George Floyd – will not be passed during this Congress.
Bass called on the Biden administration to step in and make the changes to policing “to the full extent they can,” Politico reported.
“Whether that’s an executive order, whether that’s issuing instructions, whatever they can do, we need the administration to act now, because we don’t have any particular faith or hope that we will be able to get reforms passed,” she said.