June 20, 2019

Duckworth, Senate Colleagues Introduce Bill to Help Prevent Police-Involved Deaths & Provide Justice to Families

Legislation would encourage improved training for police officers & use of independent investigation and prosecution to eliminate inherent conflicts of interest


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), today introduced legislation that would help restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve by helping prevent police-involved deaths and encourage independent, impartial investigations into law enforcement officials’ use of deadly force. The Police Training and Independent Review Act would create a financial incentive for states to require training for law enforcement officials on fair and impartial policing as well as best practices for working with members of the community who are disabled and mentally ill. It would also encourage communities to use independent prosecutors to investigate law enforcement officials’ use of deadly force by authorizing the U.S. Attorney General to award grants to states that require an independent investigation and, if warranted, prosecution in cases where one or more of the alleged offenses result in death or serious bodily harm. This legislation is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“We’ve lost too many young men and women—from Chicago to Champaign to Ferguson and around the nation—in tragic and preventable police-involved deaths,” said Duckworth. “Families like Laquan McDonald’s that have experienced heartbreak are no less deserving of justice than any other family, but too often they don’t get it. The vast majority of our nation’s law enforcement officers do their best each day to protect and serve their communities. That is why I’m proud to introduce legislation to restore trust between law enforcement and local communities by increasing resources for training to help prevent such incidents, while promoting objective and independent investigations of police-involved shootings.”

The bill builds off of legislation introduced last Congress by Duckworth and U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Lacy Clay (D-MO). Assigning cases of police-involved deaths to external and independent prosecutors is a key recommendation of the Taskforce on 21st Century Policing, which President Barack Obama established after events in Ferguson, Missouri, and other communities revealed a severe breakdown in trust between police and the communities they serve. The use of independent prosecutors eliminates the inherent conflict of interest that arises when local prosecutors are asked to investigate, and potentially prosecute, the same local police departments with whom they work so closely on a daily basis. The Task Force’s final report also recommended that law enforcement agencies should provide ongoing training on ethnic and racial diversity and topics that can build trust and legitimacy in diverse communities.

“When law enforcement and local communities don’t trust each other, it makes all of us less safe, and it can lead to tragic and deadly violence against innocent people. This is happening far too often, and Congress has to do more to solve this problem,” said Gillibrand. “I’m proud to support this bill to bring new resources to communities around the country that would help law enforcement better protect and serve the public, and hold them accountable when they don’t adhere to the training they’ve received. This is important legislation for building trust in our communities, and I urge all of my colleagues to fight with me to pass it.”

“Investigations of police-involved killings should be impartial and provide accountability to citizens who must be able to trust and rely on local law enforcement,” Hirono said. “The Police Training and Independent Review Act will take steps to prevent police-involved deaths and encourage independent investigations into the use of deadly force. I am pleased that Hawaii is among the states facing the problem of police-involved deaths by creating the Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board in 2016, and I hope it will provide a strong, impartial review of these cases.”

“It is imperative that we address implicit bias and help to create bonds of trust between police and the communities they serve. It will save lives,” said Harris. “I’m proud to support the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which builds on my work as California Attorney General in implementing the first statewide implicit bias training program for law enforcement and advocating for teams within the California Department of Justice to investigate officer-involved shootings.”

“Public safety is best protected when there is trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Markey said. “We are grateful to the majority of law enforcement officers who bravely serve our cities and towns, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the pervasive problem when officers abuse their authority and engage in the excessive use of force. The Police Training and Independent Review Act provides officers with important training and resources to better understand the diverse communities they serve, while also encouraging independent investigations into wrong-doing by officers. This legislation will help to bridge the trust gap between communities and police officers.”

“This bill will ensure more training for our law enforcement agencies to better serve our communities and work to end the scourge of institutional racism.," Sanders said. "Our communities deserve accountability from those who serve them, and this bill will provide that through independent investigations into deadly incidents. I am proud to join my colleagues on this important piece of legislation.”

The types of independent investigation and prosecution of law enforcement that would be eligible for financial incentives under the Police Training and Independent Review Act include:

  • The use of an independent agency, civilian review board or outside law enforcement department, such as the State Police, responsible for independently investigating and prosecuting all officer use of force allegations. 
  • The appointment of the State Attorney General, or a special prosecutor overseen by the State Attorney General, responsible for conducting the criminal investigation and prosecution.
  • The use of an independent prosecutor, who does not reside or work in the same county as the county where the officer’s use of force was committed.

“The NAACP is pleased to support this important legislation,” said Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy.  “Upon enactment, this legislation would clearly begin to help restore the much needed trust and integrity between law enforcement agents and the people they are sworn to serve and protect.  The fact that the Police Training and Independent Review Act requires training for law enforcement officers on fair and impartial policing will help build the essential trust that is crucial to the safety and security of our communities.”

“We will never achieve real police reform in this country without proper oversight and accountability for cases of tragic, avoidable police-involved shootings,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Kanya Bennett. “We are proud to support Senator Duckworth and this bill, which would provide much-needed training for law enforcement and objective investigations of officers’ deadly use of force.”