House GOP leaders are creating a congressional task force on law enforcement practices in the wake of the Baltimore and Ferguson riots, several lawmakers confirmed to POLITICO.
House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Republican Policy Chairman Luke Messer (R-Ind.) are working with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) — a former cop who nabbed an infamous serial killer — to set up a panel of lawmakers to examine the racial tensions between cops and black communities, and steps that can be taken fix the nationwide problem.
Reichert had called for such a panel in an interview with POLITICO.
The panel will be announced in the coming days. It follows on the heels of GOP leaders’ move on Tuesday to provide additional money for police salaries as part of an appropriations bill set to hit the floor this week — a provision sponsored by Reichert as well.
The additional money is an effort to mollify police unions who were upset by plans to add funding for body cameras while zeroing out the salary account.
In their $51 billion spending bill for Commerce and Justice departments, House appropriators had designated about $50 million for a new “community trust initiative” to fund body cameras, new use-of-force statistics gathering and training.
But the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest cop union, accused them of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Appropriators had eliminated more than $100 million they typically appropriate to police departments for hiring and retention practices under the so-called Community Oriented Police Service or “COPs” program.
The union balked, arguing that sacrificing one pot of money for the other is unhelpful.
“Our clever brothers and sisters on Appropriations have offered the equipment and taken away the people,” said James Pasco, executive director in the union’s Washington D.C. office, in an interview. “The $120 million [for hiring] has gone up in smoke, so the thing you need to staff task forces and wear cameras and do community-oriented policing, is gone: officers… They robbed Peter to pay Paul.”
Though they welcome the camera money, Pasco say it shouldn’t come at the expense of hiring — particularly because more cops are needed if departments want to improve community policing that experts say will ease the tension between police officers and communities. When police forces reduce their numbers due to budget issues, often community policing is the first thing that gets sacrificed due to lack of personnel resources.
Pasco says federal cops funding has decreased 60 percent over the past 12 years. And this year, appropriators totally eliminated the line-item for police force hiring and retention. Some Republicans on the panel, however, don’t think providing money for local policing is the federal government’s job.
The appropriations bill, as written, included $238 million for police departments, a $30 million increase over last year’s level — although Republicans eliminated the retention program. The Administration had asked for about $66 million more.
Reichert, one of only two former police sheriffs on the Hill, will offer an amendment to add back $100 million for hiring practices.