Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey’s 4th Congressional District is an original cosponsor of the JUSTICE Act, comprehensive legislation which was introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday. The legislation would build safer communities by ensuring greater transparency and accountability in policing.
The Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere Act is authored by Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina and one of only three African American senators, and Rep Pete Stauber of Minnesota.
“The murder of George Floyd while in custody by a Minneapolis police officer demands justice and has inspired a fresh and comprehensive look at crime and policing,” Smith said.
“I watched the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd who pleaded ‘I can’t breathe’ with horror and disbelief.Chauvin not only betrayed his solemn duty to serve and protect but he betrayed, as well, police officers throughout the nation who serve with great honor and valor and make enormous sacrifices to protect the innocent and enforce the law.
“The JUSTICE Act is a serious, comprehensive and balanced reform initiative—an important step forward.”
The bill provides $225 million for improved police training—including best practices for violence de-escalation and alternatives to the use of force. The training also includes the most effective approaches to suspects with mental health conditions.
$500 million is allocated for a matching grant program to help police departments purchase body-worn cameras and the necessary technology and training to ensure their optimal use and conditions eligibility for this funding on criteria including usage at all times when an officer arrests or detains anyone.
Smith highlighted the importance of bodycams noting that studies have shown that the use of body-worn cameras can reduce complaints against officers by up to 90% and decrease officers use of force by 60%.
The JUSTICE ACT provides another $500 million for duty-to-intervene training and directs the Attorney General in consultation with state and local governments, and organizations representing rank and file law enforcement officers to develop training curriculum on the duty of a law enforcement officer to intervene when another officer engages in excessive use of force.
“Had any one of the three officers on the scene in Minneapolis intervened when George Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe, his life could have been saved,” Smith added.
The congressman said reforms also include maintaining and appropriately sharing disciplinary records for officer hiring, use of force reporting to the FBI, no knock warrant reporting, incentivizing chokehold bans and increased penalties for false police reports.
The JUSTICE Act empowers the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program to hire recruiters and enroll candidates in law enforcement academies to ensure racial and demographic representation similar to the community served and funds an education program for law enforcement on racism produced by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.
The bill makes lynching a federal crime.
The legislation also creates the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys which will study and issue a wide-ranging report on conditions affecting Black men and boys, including homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, death rates, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance in all grade levels and health issues and will make recommendations to address these issues.