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Senate Republicans Crafting Plan For Police Reform

NOEL KING, HOST:

George Floyd's brother Philonise Floyd is asking Congress to pass laws that will ensure his brother did not die for nothing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHILONISE FLOYD: Honor George and make the necessary changes that make law enforcement the solution and not the problem. Hold them accountable when they do something wrong. Teach them what it means to treat people with empathy and respect.

KING: Mr. Floyd was speaking at a House hearing yesterday.

House Democrats have now released their proposals for police reform, and a group of Senate Republicans is crafting their own plan. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma is part of that team. He's on the line with me now. Good morning, Senator.

JAMES LANKFORD: Good morning to you.

KING: What specific policy changes will be in the Republican police reform package?

LANKFORD: Well, we have multiple layers (ph) in transparency, actually, that lines up extremely well with what George Floyd's brother was talking about on Capitol Hill in the House hearing yesterday. Trying to work through the process of how do we get more information out, greater transparency for law enforcement and to actually get some areas where we don't have equal justice exposed? Let me give you some examples.

KING: Please.

LANKFORD: Section called the George Floyd and Walter Scott Notification Act. This provides transparency, so any time that there's a deadly use of force, that that information will come out. About 40% of the departments around the country already provide this information. We want to make sure all of them provide this information. That data helps everyone to be able to see it.

We have the Breonna Taylor Notification Act, which is similar to this, to try to get information out on no-knock warrants. We know that they're used. We know they're appropriate at times. But we don't have a good tracking of information on this.

One of the errors in talking with black law enforcement that I've had the conversation on multiple times has come out that there are not enough African American recruiters for law enforcement and that many of the big-city departments, they don't match the ethnicity of the community. And so one of the things we're adding is grants to increase recruiting for the African American community, women also included in that, and then to make sure that the departments match the ethnicity of the actual community.

Increasing funding for body cameras is exceptionally important, including adding penalties when body cameras are worn but not actually turned on. That's been an issue as well at times that body cameras sometimes, quote-unquote, "malfunction" or they're not turning on at certain times. We want to make sure that there's some accountability in that.

Record preservation is another area. If a police officer moves from one department to another department, we want to make sure the records, good and bad, have been kept on that officer and so the next police department can get access to all of the records for someone as they transition.

Justice for Victims of Lynching Act - this has been something Congress has talked about for several Congresses now, has either passed the House or the Senate, or different versions have passed the House and the Senate. We want to make sure this gets done.

KING: You are talking about a great number of reforms there, which makes me wonder, do you believe that the U.S. policing system is inherently racist? And if you do, is what you are essentially calling for here an overhaul rather than just a few reforms?

LANKFORD: No, I would not say that police officers are systemically racist. This has been a big conversation that we've had around the country lately. To me, calling all police officers or all police departments racist is like calling all protesters rioters. There are some rioters that are in the middle of some peaceful protesters that are frustrated. There are some police officers that are bad apples in the middle of some police departments, and those police officers are frustrated that they've got some bad apples in the mix as well. So part of what we're focused on is how do we get greater training? How do we work through better transparency so we can expose individuals that are in the middle of good police departments, among good officers that really do want to serve and protect the community, that are working very hard and we are grateful for the work that they're doing? But those officers also get frustrated when someone commits a murder, clearly, as a police officer or does a racist act. And so this is one of those issues that we can't paint all protesters with a broad brush or paint all police officers with a broad brush. We've got to be able to treat people as individuals.

KING: One of the major aspects of the Democratic proposal is an end to qualified immunity. That is a legal doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits. Do you agree that qualified immunity should end?

LANKFORD: I do not, actually.

KING: Why not?

LANKFORD: And this is one of the areas that becomes a difficulty because you've got good police officers that make very difficult decisions in rapid pace. So we've got to find a way to have greater conversation about how do we hold police officers accountable. But we can see even the situation that happened with George Floyd, within hours, those officers were fired and, as they work through the criminal justice system, being held to account. So you can hold people to account if you have body camera. You have footage there. You have the details. You have records that are coming out. There are other ways to be able to do this without making every officer on the force second-guess.

KING: Yeah. I would note, though - I would note that the original police write-up on Mr. Floyd's death - killing was completely inaccurate. And it was because a girl, a 17-year-old girl, was recording it that we have that video, not because of body cams. So I think when people talk about ending qualified immunity, it's that kind of thing that they're really after.

LANKFORD: True, true. And completely...

KING: Very quickly, we will ask you - oh.

LANKFORD: Completely understand that. That's why we're trying to increase the use of body cameras, so we can get more footage and get every situation, not have to count on a bystander to take that.

KING: In the seconds we have left, are you having discussions with your Democratic colleagues? Are you getting anywhere, essentially?

LANKFORD: Sure. Yeah, we've had great conversations. We have a proposal to be able to use the Museum of African American History for greater use in training. They do some great training there for law enforcement here in the Washington, D.C., area. We'd like to be able to spread that out nationwide. And we're having great conversations with that and other areas with our Democratic colleagues. We should be able to solve this together.

KING: Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, thank you.

LANKFORD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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