Arizona House Dems united behind policing reform bill




A Tucson police officer with her weapon drawn. Photo by Bill Morrow | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

All five Democratic members of Arizona’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives have thrown their support behind legislation aimed at reforming law enforcement in the wake of a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of an unarmed Black man and the nationwide protests it triggered.

Attitudes are less consistent among Arizona’s GOP lawmakers. Most Republicans in the Arizona delegation haven’t taken public positions on the bill, though Rep. Andy Biggs has come out squarely against it.

And neither Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema nor Republican Sen. Martha McSally have taken a position. Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly, who hopes to unseat McSally in November, has also remained noncommittal.

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would make a number of changes, including:

  • Prohibiting choke holds and no-knock warrants by federal law enforcement officers.
  • Limiting the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Prohibiting racial and other discriminatory profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement.
  • Requiring uniformed federal officers to wear body cameras and marked federal law enforcement vehicles to use dashboard cameras, and requires state and local law enforcement agencies to use federal funds they’ve received to ensure their officers wear body cameras as well.
  • Eliminating the legal protection known as qualified immunity for law enforcement, making it easier for people to sue police officers in civil court, and lowering the standard in federal law for proving misconduct by law enforcement.
  • Granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division more authority to investigate problematic police departments.
  • Creating a nationwide database of police misconduct to make it more difficult for officers with histories of misconduct to move to new departments.
  • Requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to track and report demographic data on race, sex, disability, religion and age in use-of-force incidents.

Arizona Democratic Congressmen Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton have already signed on as cosponsors. Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran announced on Tuesday that he would also cosponsor the legislation, while Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick have pledged support for the bill, as well.

“We have a long way to go to fix long-standing, institutional biases and systemic racism. Every American has a responsibility to meet this historic challenge. And Congress must take this important step — the first of many — to ensure that no American faces greater danger simply because of the color of their skin,” Stanton said in a press release.

O’Halleran said, “We have reached a turning point as a nation and no elected official of any political party, at any level of government, can ignore the calls for change sweeping our communities. I am committed to continuing to hear from the citizens of Arizona’s First District and to working with the Congressional Black Caucus to see what is needed next.”

On the other side of the aisle, Biggs, who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, criticized the proposal as “long on philosophy and platitudes” and said it would discourage people from becoming police officers. He was especially critical of the provisions that would make it easier to sue law enforcement officers.

“You’re going to have some immunity problems,” Biggs said in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday. “Instead of the department taking immunity, it is going to be the individual, and nobody is going to want to put their lives and their family in harm’s way.”

Other Republicans weren’t so quick to oppose the legislation.

Rep. Paul Gosar didn’t want to take a position until he’d read the full legislation, and was leaning against supporting it. But he told Arizona Mirror there were some provisions he liked, and said he was hopeful that other policies he supported could be amended onto the bill.

Gosar said he supports the use of body and dashboard cameras, but opposes “demonizing all law enforcement or assuming there is a nationwide crisis because of an immoral cop in Minneapolis.” And he said Congress has no clue about proper police tactics and shouldn’t be dictating how law enforcement officers do their jobs.

“Techniques and tools for law enforcement should be left to the agencies that enforce laws, not uninformed members of Congress, most of whom never had to tackle a criminal high on PCP or enraged with hostility,” he said. 

Gosar added that any reforms should include a ban on public sector labor unions, which he said “have made it difficult to fire rogue officers who commit murder.”

A spokeswoman for Congressman David Schweikert said his legislative team “is still working through the legislation” and had no comment on the bill. A spokeswoman for Rep. Debbie Lesko did not respond to a message from the Mirror.

McSally and Sinema’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Kelly’s campaign said the presumptive Democratic Senate nominee “is committed to listening, learning more about proposals including this one, and being part of the solution to address systemic racism in our justice system and our society.”