Georgia lawmakers face calls for police reform, end of some military-style weapons
By David Pendered
The call for police reform following the death of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery has been sounded for the session of the state Legislature that is to begin in January. Six such proposals have been submitted in the state House.
The bills address an array of concerns that arose during the discussions last Summer around the issue of police practices and firepower. Floyd died May 25 in custody of Minneapolis police. Arbery was pursued and fatally shot Feb. 23 in Brunswick.
As a group, the bills would stem the flow of military-style weapons from the federal Defense Department to local police entities; rewrite “use of force” provisions around the topic of deadly force; and waive sovereign immunity so that aggrieved persons could file lawsuits against officers, agencies, coroners and medical examiners.
Sovereign immunity is the doctrine that the state, and its representatives, cannot commit a legal wrong and thus cannot be sued in court.
Military equipment has flowed to local law enforcement agencies for nearly three decades. In metro Atlanta, for example, the 1033 Program routes obsolete/unneeded equipment ranging from military-specific equipment to office desks. The Atlanta Regional Commission oversees another program that provides items such as night-vision binoculars used to prevent disruptions by terrorist attack.
Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex) introduced the measures. Scott did not respond to a request for conversation submitted Dec. 3 by phone to a staffer in her House office and by email.
Scott’s ability to propel the legislation is unclear. For starters, Scott’s a Democrat in a Legislature controlled by Republicans. Scott’s influence in the House Democratic Caucus is uncertain; she is not in the leadership circle the caucus elected on Nov. 10.
However, Scott’s raft of legislation does resemble a plank in Joe Biden’s campaign platform of criminal justice reform. The plank, located fourth from the bottom of Biden’s criminal justice platform, cites community oriented policing and says Biden, if elected president, “will establish a panel to scrutinize what equipment is used by law enforcement in our communities.” The promise appears to pick up on a 2014 initiative of the Obama administration.
The six bills Scott introduced and a quick description of each follows:
- House Bill 15 – Require police officers to take training on de-escalation techniques;
- House Bill 16 – The “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act,” to ban local law enforcement entities from accepting from the Department of Defense materials including stun grenades, long-range listening equipment, aircraft that configured for combat, an array of trucks;
- House Bill 17 – A ban on what the bill defines as profiling on bases including race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation for purposes of stops, interviews or searches. Section 2 would waive sovereign immunity for the state or local entity;
- House Bill 18 – The “Police Accountability Act,” a 19-page bill that among other matters would require officers to give a business card to any person detained in a traffic stop; require body cameras on all officers by July 1, 2024, to be funded by law enforcement agencies; and waive sovereign immunity for officers who acted, or failed to intervene, in situations where a person’s constitutional rights were deprived;
- House Bill 20 – Waives sovereign immunity for coroners and medical examiners in cases brought by the heirs of a person killed by a police officer and is the subject of a death investigation;
- House Bill 21 – Creates a misdemeanor penalty for any who contacts 9-1-1 to submit a false report intended to intimidate one or more persons on bases including race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.