WASHINGTON (WAVY) — Congress has passed bipartisan legislation requiring states to report yearly to the U.S. Department of Justice how many people die while in police custody or during the course of an arrest.
The House of Representatives approved the Death in Custody Reporting Act by voice vote last December, and the Senate passed the bill Wednesday night. The legislation will now go to the President for his signature.
U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who represents parts of Hampton Roads in Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, sponsored the House version of the bill. Thursday, he released the following statement:
It is clear that the federal government needs to exercise greater oversight of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to ensure that they are protecting and serving our citizens. To aid in that measure, we need data on deaths that occur within our criminal justice system. Without accurate data, it is nearly impossible to identify variables that lead to an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of individuals dying in custody or during an arrest. The passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act will make this information available, so policymakers will be in a position to enact initiatives that will reduce incidences of avoidable deaths in our criminal justice system. I appreciate the assistance of Senator Blumenthal and Senator Paul in working with me to pass this important bill before the end of this Congress.
— Rep. Bobby Scott (@repbobbyscott) December 11, 2014
Some are calling the legislation a “Ferguson Bill,” as people are pushing for more police accountability, following the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Scott said for the last four or five years, he’s introduced the bill as the lead democrat on the Crime Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Each time it would get stuck in the Senate, and he’s just glad whatever the current motivation is, that it has finally passed.
“When somebody says that white police officers are killing black unarmed men and the other side says, ‘well no, they’re not,’ well, that’s the end of the discussion,” Scott said. “Let’s at least start off with the basis of facts, whether or not it’s happening and how often it’s happening.”
The Norfolk Pastor’s Coaltion said it is happening too often. They’re holding a forum Friday night in Norfolk for the public to sound off. Rev. Anthony Page of First Baptist Church Lambert Point said proposed legislation is valuable, and he commends Rep. Scott for pushing the bill until it was passed.
“It’s a part, but certainly not the total solution,” Page said. “It’s certain we have a problem, and we know monitoring is essential. My major concern is making sure there is no death in custody. Accountability is needed.”
Page is hoping the forum with the Norfolk police chief present on Friday will address whether there needs to be better recruitment of police forces, more sensitivity training or education, among other things.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) all worked with Scott to get the bill through Congress.