June 19, 2020
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.) spoke on the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to support the JUSTICE Act, which was introduced by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (S.C.). The police reform legislation includes measures that will improve training, transparency, and accountability at police departments across the nation. Blunt is an original cosponsor of the bill.
Blunt also reiterated his call for the Justice Department to aid local police reform efforts.
Following Are Excerpts From Blunt’s Remarks:
“Mr. President, over the weekend, we celebrated Flag Day where we honor our country's flag as a symbol of unity. It's also a symbol of all the struggles we've gone through as a nation and the struggles ahead of us. Harry Truman, one of his desks he used on the Senate floor is right here in front of me, once said that Flag Day is also a chance for us to consider what we want the flag to stand for. So I think it's appropriate that we're considering the best way we can make sure that the flag stands for all we want it to stand for and for all of us.
“Senator Tim Scott has introduced the JUSTICE Act that would bring us closer to that idea. I was glad to be a co-sponsor of the bill. I think this bill has the potential to make a real difference in how we deal with the real important issue of and difficult issue of police reform, and making sure that our communities are both safe and secure. You know, you can be safe in the sense that you're not in danger, but people also need to feel secure, meaning they have confidence that they'll remain safe and that they'll be treated fairly while they are safe. We need to be sure that all the people of our country believe that justice can be blind, but it can also dispense justice without fear or favor.
“Policing by its very nature is mostly a local function, there are around 18,000 police departments across the country. And most of the reforms can best be made at the local level or the state level. … But I think there are some things we can do both in the Congress and the administration. I think Senator Scott's done a really good job of finding what many of those things are and how to make them happen with bipartisan support. There's a lot in this bill that just simply increases transparency and accountability.
“More reporting so the Justice Department has an idea of areas where problems seem to arise more frequently and maybe shouldn’t. An area of reporting so a troublesome officer has all of those troubles reported. If they had problems with these issues of fairness or constitutional protection and if that officer is applying at another law enforcement agency, that information should be readily available.
“There are two important ways to give people a sense of security and we do that recognizing that the majority of police in this country are not only not a problem, they do an incredibly hard job and they do it in an incredible way. It's a job that we have to have. It has to be conscientiously, professionally, and courageously done and law enforcement officers all over America do it. They get up and do a hard job every day they run to danger when others run away. …
“Frankly, I think the hardest job in America might be to be the spouse of a law enforcement officer. Law enforcement officers really generally have a sense, there are occasions when this isn't the case, but generally have a sense whether they're in imminent danger or not. A person who cares about them, the person who loves them, wonders all day, what at this exact moment is that individual facing and are they safe or not? …
“I think if there is a systemic problem in a department, it's hard for that department to solve that problem. And so some of what Senator Scott's legislation does helps create the tools that they might need to get that done or the tools that we might need as outside helpers to say here’s a department that somebody needs to look at. His legislation can assure us that the small group of people in law enforcement who aren’t conducting themselves the way that everybody else in law enforcement does, that there's transparency, that there's reporting, that things can't just be swept under the rug, that an officer can't go from one department to another without the new department knowing exactly what they're getting.
“This legislation sets up more funding to make sure that body cameras are widely available and have to be used if you have them. And I think there's plenty of evidence since 2014, when we had really the beginning of the modern body camera movement, that if you've got those cameras on your body and you've got them on, that the escalation of violence for whatever reason happens much less frequently. …
“Sharing records, as I said before, critically important so that one bad officer doesn't get passed from one department to another. There are things in the realm of training where this legislation helps officers get training on tactics to de-escalate a situation when it comes out of control. Officers want this kind of training. Officers want the kind of training that makes it easier for them to understand if they're in a situation where mental health is the problem or opioid addiction is the problem or drug addiction is the problem. Are you dealing with a real criminal here or are you dealing with somebody who has gotten themselves in a situation that you need to figure how to get them in a different and better place?
“While we need to move quickly to take up this legislation, I think there are some areas where the administration can act and is acting based on announcements that were made this week and things that weren't announced this week. I talked to Attorney General Barr a couple of weeks ago as these incidents began to become more clear in the sense of problems that could be within entire police departments and encouraged him to restore more of the pattern-and-practice reviews that were part of what the Justice Department used for about a decade. They were in place until November of 2018. I think they need to be back in place.
“Now, we know from past usage that they don't have to be used on any situation or every situation, but they can be used. We've seen them used in my state, in Ferguson, Missouri and surrounding St. Louis County that had a much bigger department ask for a voluntary review, in the City of St. Louis, which has a big police department but not as big as St. Louis County in 2014, 2017. Whether that review was voluntary or even if it involved a consent decree, I think that the case can be made that things happened in those three departments that might not have happened otherwise. …
“President Trump took some additional steps that I was supportive of and I talked about earlier this week…officers with better tools to deal with mental health, homelessness, addiction issues. Excellence in Mental Health, Missouri is one of the eight Excellence in Mental Health states. This is legislation, bipartisan legislation, that I've worked on for several years with Senator Stabenow from Michigan. It allows law enforcement to connect people with the help they need and wind up having them someplace more appropriate than either jail or court. In fact, Mr. President, the Department of Health and Human Services, in monitoring this program, says it's led to a 60% decrease in jail time. …
“Maybe it's on the iPad that they are carrying with them where they can get that 24/7 connection with a health care professional. Certainly benefits from the training that many Missouri officers have had now in crisis intervention. In Kansas City, in St. Louis County, in St. Louis City, in Springfield, I've ridden with officers and talked to officers and watched how this happens and that builds confidence.
“Senator Scott's bill builds the same kind of confidence. Now I've heard some of our friends on the other side say, ‘well, I'm for 80% of what's in that bill.’ No, they don't even say that. They say ‘I'm for 80% of the bill.’ Now, what's the difference? Being for 80% of the bill means there are things in it you don't want, but they also say more frequently, no, that bill has 80% of what I want in it already. Well, let me remind our friends how you make a law.
“You make a law under the Constitution, the House passes a bill and maybe you like that better. The Senate passes a bill and maybe the Senate has 80% of what you'd like to see in the final bill in the Senate bill. And then you go to conference. …
“A solution that gets you 90% of what you want or 80% of what you want is the alternative to 0% of what you want, if you want to be a legislator, you've got to figure out that that is a better path for you to take than the 0% path. It’d be tragic next week if the result of the House deliberation in this month, if the result of the Senate deliberation is that there's no further discussion because everybody decided if it wasn't everything they wanted, they didn't want to have the process that we used to call, and the Constitution calls, and civics books call the legislative process.
“These are not the first struggles we face together as a nation. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go.
“Remember the Constitution doesn't talk, doesn't even promise a perfect Union. It promises a more perfect Union. You get to a more perfect Union one step at a time, not all at once.
“My guess is we'll always be on the journey toward a more perfect Union. But Senator Scott has given us an opportunity to take some of the important steps on that journey and make the Union more perfect than it is right now.”