House and Senate committee debates turned ugly as discussions on how best to reform U.S. law enforcement departments grew heated. A White House task force recommended a multitude of changes to the police system after events in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore resulted in protests, demonstrations and riots.
According to RT.com, the primary focus of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism was the issue of body cameras. The main discussion concentrated on whether or not it should be mandatory for police to wear them and if there should be federal funding for their purchase and upkeep. Also discussed were the issues of privacy, video storage, public requests for information and the technical issues and guidelines regarding the use of the cameras.
Views differed with South Carolina State Senator Tim Scott stating that having the federal government support the purchase of body cameras should not be considered federalizing local policing. “Rather, it is an attempt to keep law enforcement officers and our communities safer,” he said.
On the other side of the debate, Jarrod Bruder of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association argued, “Everyone, including the officer and the person interacting with the officer, tends to behave better when they know they are being filmed.”
Discussion during the House Judiciary Committee hearing stayed more general, concentrating on policing strategy and recommendations made by the White House task force.
There was a consensus that police interaction with the public was an important issue and vital for reform. Committee chairman Robert Goodlatte addressed the need to find a better means of communication between law enforcement and communities stating, “both in everyday situations, and when more difficult circumstances arise.”
Susan Lee Rahr, a task force member, said she would like to see federal funding for police training, creating new educational opportunities and revamping those that already exist. She stated that by doing so, it would “literally transform the profession of policing in this country.”
RT.com reported that the need for more community-oriented policing was one of the recommendations made by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was published on Monday. A separate report on equipment used by law enforcement, released Monday as well, said the police should not be allowed access to weapons and uniforms whose “appearance may undermine community trust when used in support of civilian law enforcement activities.”
Politico reported Goodlatte said he “would not rest until we make progress” on policing and criminal justice reform. Just how far progress went will be yet to be determined as discussions on black-on-black crime, rising tensions between police and communities and police reform grew into tense debates and degenerated several times into partisan mudslinging.