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Rep. Gallego Calls on Congress to Lead on Transformational Criminal Justice Reform

June 1, 2020
Press Release

PHOENIX, AZ – Today, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) issued the following statement urging Congress to lead on transformational criminal justice reform, detailing measures that he believes must be included in any plan:

“While the President continues to stoke the flames of division, fear, and racial tension, Congress must lead our nation during this time of crisis,” Rep. Gallego said. “We must work to heal the festering wounds that structural racism, systemic inequalities, and injustice have caused for so long.  We need fundamental, transformational change of the relationship between the law enforcement community and Black and Brown Americans in this country. 

“In order to start down that path, Congress must demilitarize the police; push to restart federal investigations into police departments with a history of discriminatory practices or civil rights violations; mandate independent investigations of police misconduct and officer-involved shootings; and ensure every officer across every level of law enforcement regularly receives de-escalation, crisis intervention, racial sensitivity, and implicit bias training.”

Demilitarizing the Police

“I am a combat veteran.  It pains me when I see police acting as if they are soldiers in our own communities using armor, weapons, and vehicles of war.  Police officers have a responsibility to protect and uphold the rights of the community they serve.  They must be seen as interwoven into the fabric of our communities—not as a foreign force—but that is the only image I see when they roll through our streets with more armor than I and those I served with had in Iraq.

“One of the most absurd programs in the United States government that was revived under the Trump Administration transfers military-grade weapons, vehicles, and ammunition to state and local police departments across this country.  Every single state has been flooded with billions of dollars of military equipment, including armored personnel carriers designed to withstand land mines and roadside bombs, weapons that shoot bullets the size of your hand, and even grenade launchers.  Community police officers are not soldiers.  Fellow Americans are not the enemy.  We must stop providing weapons of war to police.”

Federal Investigations of Police Departments

“President Obama’s Department of Justice methodically investigated police departments for an array of issues, including excessive force, discriminating against or targeting minorities, biased policing practices, and inappropriately using deadly force.  Including in Maricopa County under Sheriff Arpaio, the DOJ found that many police departments were engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitutional rights of Americans and federal law.  The DOJ entered into court-enforceable agreements—or consent decrees—with these departments to reform policing practices and uphold the civil rights of Americans.  President Trump has worked to dismantle this important work and undermine the DOJ Office of Civil rights.

“The DOJ’s ability to conduct these investigations and enter into consent decrees is one of the most powerful tools we have to ensure constitutional policing practices in the United States.  They helped improve training and accountability; increase awareness of bias in policing; strengthen relationships with underserved and at-risk communities; improve transparency and implement universal body worn cameras; reform officer disciplinary systems; and transform the culture of departments in crisis.  These strategies not only increase public trust, but also strengthen our police departments and help reduce crime.  We need a Department of Justice willing to use this power to uphold the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

Independent Prosecutors

“We need to have an honest conversation about conflicts of interest within our criminal justice system that stem from the close relationship prosecutors have with police departments.  Prosecutors, who depend on the police for evidence, testimony, and political support, should not be in charge of investigating them after an officer-involved shooting or complaint of criminal misconduct.  It’s an inherent conflict of interest that damages the public’s faith in our criminal justice system and helps preserve systemic racial biases. 

“Since 2005, only a few dozen police officers have been convicted of a crime after a police shooting while approximately 900 to 1,000 people are shot and killed by police every year, making it one of the leading causes of deaths among young black men.  Congress must pass legislation requiring that all criminal cases involving police misconduct and officer-involved shootings are investigated and litigated by independent prosecutors.”

Police Training

“Congress must dramatically increase funding for de-escalation, crisis intervention, sensitivity, and implicit bias training for police officers.  We have seen how this training and utilizing community policing strategies can strengthen the relationship between police and those who they have sworn to serve.  We should have strong incentives in place to ensure that every police officer regularly receives this training.  These investments save lives and ensure that police have the tools they need to protect themselves and others.”   

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