New York Attorney General Letitia James, co-leading a coalition of 20 attorneys general in partnership with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, today applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for its passage of police reform legislation. The coalition is now urging the U.S. Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which will give state attorneys general clear statutory authority to investigate patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing.

Among the provisions of H.R. 7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, state attorneys general would have the authority to investigate and address patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, as well as acquire data about use of excessive force by officers. Earlier this month, a coalition of attorneys general submitted a letter to congressional leadership arguing that attorneys general should have authority to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing, particularly in the event that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) fails to use its authority to act.

“People of our states demand and deserve full justice under the law,” Attorney General James said. “That means the law must work for them and that those who abuse power will be held accountable for their misdeeds. This bill is but one step, albeit a very important one, in a long road to delivering on the promise of equal protection and public safety afforded to all people in America. I strongly urge the Senate to pass this commonsense measure without delay.”

The coalition is calling on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which gives state attorneys general the authority to investigate, issue subpoenas for, and, when necessary, take action in federal district court in these type of cases. The measure also authorizes appropriations of up to $100 million for a federal grant program to help fund state attorneys general’s pattern-or-practice investigations during fiscal years 2021 to 2023.

The coalition is calling for the Senate to pass the legislation immediately, as the DOJ has largely refused to address the pervasive problem of police misconduct and left communities without critical civil rights protections. In their June 4th letter to congressional leaders, the attorneys general highlighted the dramatic decrease in pattern-or-practice investigations initiated by the DOJ since 2017. The attorneys general stated that the DOJ initiated 69 pattern-or-practice investigations between 1994 and 2017, which resulted in 40 court-enforceable consent decrees. Since January 2017, the DOJ has not initiated a single pattern-or-practice investigation into police conduct and has not entered any consent decrees.

In addition to enabling attorneys general to conduct pattern-or-practice investigations, H.R. 7120 would also allow them to acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers. Such data would be especially important when identifying law enforcement agencies that have above-average rates of excessive force complaints, which can also help identify at-risk law enforcement agencies before a devastating incident occurs. For example, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing 46-year-old George Floyd on May 25th had 18 prior complaints filed against him with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs.

Joining Attorneys General James and Raoul in calling on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Lockwood Law

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