The recent civil
unrest we’ve seen
over this matter is a
reckoning, make no
The American Spark
Congress Can Curb Excessive Force By Law Enforcement
By Cliff Montgomery - July 25th, 2020
The excessive - and occasionally deadly - use of force by America’s law enforcement has been a major
social issue this summer. The recent civil unrest we’ve seen over this matter is a reckoning, make no mistake
about it. When those in power press the people too far - and continual calls for reform are met with nothing
but silent contempt by the powerful - this kind of unrest is the lamentable, inevitable result.
And let’s remember, this excessive force is not just used on the street; it happens on occasion throughout our
Justice systems. On Thursday, the Justice Department released a scathing report on Alabama’s state prison
system, ruling that the state’s prisons for men are “unconstitutional because [the prison] staff abuse inmates,”
according to National Public Radio.
The Greeks and Romans called such abuses of power hubris. The Jews and Christians still call it overween-
ing pride. These sins are particularly odious because they are completely avoidable.
We may not be able to correct the past but we can correct who we are, as we are reminded by this report on
what Congress might do to curb the use of excessive force by law enforcement. The study was recently
released by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
Below, The American Spark quotes the summary of this timely CRS report:
“Several high-profile incidents where there have been complaints of the use of excessive force against
individuals and subsequent backlash in the form of civil unrest have generated interest in what role Congress
could play in facilitating efforts to build trust between the police and the people they serve. This report
provides an overview of the federal government’s role in local police-community relations.
“According to polling conducted by Gallup, public confidence in the police declined in 2014 and 2015 after
several high-profile incidents in which men of color were killed during confrontations with the police.
Confidence in the police rebounded back to the historical average in 2017 before declining again in 2018 and
2019. (Gallup data are not yet available for 2020).
“However, certain groups, such as people of color, people age 34 or younger, and individuals who identify as
liberal say they have less confidence in the police than whites, people over the age of 35, and people with
conservative political leanings.
“Some observers believe that a decline in public trust of the police is at least partially attributable to state and
local police policies and practices. Federalism limits the amount of influence Congress can have over state
and local law enforcement policy. General policing powers are the purview of states, but Congress can try to
influence state and local policing policies by attaching conditions to grant funds.
“The federal government might also choose to address issues related to police-community relations and
accountability through (1) federal efforts to collect and disseminate data on the use of force by police, (2)
statutes that allow the federal government to investigate instances of alleged police misconduct, and (3) the
influence the Department of Justice (DOJ) has on state and local policing through its role as a public interest
law enforcer, policy leader, and convener of representatives from law enforcement agencies and local
communities to discuss policing issues.
“There are several options policymakers might consider should they choose to play a role in facilitating better
police-community relations, including the following:
- placing conditions on federal funding to encourage law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that
promote better community relations;
- promoting efforts to collect data on the use of force by law enforcement, including evaluating potential
overlap between DOJ programs that currently collect the data;
- providing grants to law enforcement agencies so they can purchase body-worn cameras for their officers;
- taking steps to facilitate investigations and prosecutions of excessive force by amending 18 U.S.C.
Section 242 to reduce the mens rea standard [i.e., criminal intent usually necessary to prove guilt] in
federal prosecution, enhance DOJ civil enforcement under 34 U.S.C. Section 12601, or place conditions
on federal funds to promote the use of special prosecutors at the state level;
- funding Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants so law enforcement agencies can hire
more officers to engage in community policing activities; and
- using the influence of congressional authority to affect the direction of national criminal justice policy.”
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