Tags: Baltimore Riots | Republicans | Capitol Hill | crime fighting | federal | body cameras

Hill GOP Debate Heating Up Over Federal Crime-Fighting Role

By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 03:35 PM

An intra-GOP debate over the federal government's crime-fighting role is underway on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers tackle issues like body cameras and changes to federal sentencing guidelines, Politico reported.

In the wake of deadly police confrontations in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, which were followed by rioting, there is a growing consensus that equipping police across the country with body cameras would deter criminal behavior by rogue cops and vindicate police who are falsely accused of mistreating suspects.

Last week, the Justice Department announced creation of a $20 million pilot program aimed at expanding the use of body cameras by police departments across the country.

The key question now, according to groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, is who will pick up the tab for such a program?

There are also policy questions around body cameras, including when they should be turned on, whether their presence would keep crime victims from seeking help, and under what circumstances the public may request copies of such videos.

Sheriff-turned-Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said Congress needs to help resolve these issues: "Federal law enforcement has to have a role in helping and working with law enforcement to raise their standards and meet standards that are set by the federal government … We can set up a national standard we think should be met."

Reichert and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said federal funding could be linked to certain requirements for its usage, as state and local money typically is.

But other Republicans are skeptical of the idea.

Asked about body cameras, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake stated: "I'm in favor of it, but I don't know what more we can do here other than provide funding, but we shouldn't have to do that."

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., made a similar point: "We don't have the money."

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, said federal legislation on police issues violates federalism.

"There's no epidemic of police criminality in this country," he said. "Policing, historically, has been and belongs in the province of the states, so I'm not sure that there's a role for Congress per se, except to engage in this discussion and make some points about the fact that the majority of the police do a great job."

But Toomey's GOP colleague, Sen. Scott of South Carolina, says Washington is "already playing a role" because localities are asking the Justice Department for help.

"I believe we can save some money and solve problems before they happen by deploying some resources in that direction," Scott said.

There is also concern that federal overreach would alienate law enforcement.

Former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has criticized New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for leading what he called an "anti-police campaign," said Congress needs to weigh carefully how it gets involved.

"Police feel they're being besieged these days, and I'm not certain that [congressional] intervention here is needed — and I'm not certain it won't reinforce the feeling of alienation," Kelly said.

Scott agreed that "we have to be careful that we don't somehow create a negative perception that hover [over] all law enforcement officers."

Other issues likely to come before Congress involve lowering mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and making it easier for the Justice Department to initiate civil-rights investigations.

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An intra-GOP debate over the federal government's crime-fighting role is underway on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers tackle issues like body cameras and changes to federal sentencing guidelines, Politico reported.
Republicans, Capitol Hill, crime fighting, federal, body cameras
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2015-35-08
Friday, 08 May 2015 03:35 PM
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