Congress Offers 'Symbol Over Substance' on Police Brutality

May 12, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, May 12, 1999

WASHINGTON — Saying that the Clinton Administration already has the tools it needs to combat police misconduct, the American Civil Liberties Union today criticized new legislation that would create a commission to study police practices nationwide as yet another example of symbol over substance.

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-NY, joined with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-IL, to introduce the legislation, H.R. 1659, the “National Police Training Commission Act of 1999.” The bill would establish a new panel to conduct a study on the effectiveness of training, recruiting, hiring, oversight and funding polices and practices in law enforcement.

The new congressional interest in police practices comes as several incidents have drawn high-profile media attention, including accusations in California and New York and the acknowledgement that the New Jersey State Police engaged in decades of improper racial profiling.

“Faced with solid evidence of police misconduct across the nation, all the federal government is offering is yet another foil,” said Rachel King, ACLU legislative counsel. “This is a blatant attempt to sidestep its obligation to provide leadership and enforce already existing laws.

“The Justice Department, for example, already has the authority to bring ‘pattern and practice’ lawsuits against police departments engaged in police brutality,” King added. “Yet the civil rights division has been consistently underfunded and in five years has pursued only one case against a major city – Pittsburgh – in spite of evidence of abuse in many other areas, such as New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey.”

Earlier this week, ACLU Washington Office Director Laura W. Murphy testified before the Congressional Black Caucus on police brutality. In her testimony, she called upon the Clinton Administration to take aggressive steps to address a “national crisis in confidence in law enforcement in communities of color.”

“The Federal government has been quite willing to fund programs designed to get officers on the street,” Murphy said. “It has been considerably less willing to ensure that the officers’ conduct is appropriate once they get there.”

The ACLU’s testimony before the Black Caucus is at:

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