Rep. Fred Keller: Democrats wrong to oppose Republican police reform bill in Congress

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I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of JUSTICE Act legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. and in the House by Rep. Peter Stauber, R-Minn. The bill incentivizes law enforcement agencies to implement best practices, enhance training, and reform use of force guidelines. It also includes other important reforms.

The JUSTICE (Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere) Act encourages beneficial policies like accreditation for police departments and the elimination of chokeholds, while avoiding an approach to local law enforcement where all important decision are made in Washington and handed down to local law enforcement agencies.

In addition, the JUSTICE Act helps improve law enforcement by giving officers the tools, training and resources they need to continue doing the job the right way.


Unfortunately, Democrats in the House and Senate are standing in the way of this forward-thinking legislation that ensures police officers are better trained to protect the communities they serve.

Congressional Democrats have proposed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as their alternative to the JUSTICE Act. The Democratic bill would provide a top-down approach that enforces national standards without the ability for local control, while making it harder for police officers to do their jobs effectively.

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The Democratic bill would do exactly what the experts I met with at listening sessions in my district in Pennsylvania have warned against: control local police departments from Washington.

The JUSTICE Act deserves enactment because it would improve relations between police departments and communities across America, strengthen public safety, and unite the country. The bill offers the commonsense solutions to bring about the improvements required at this moment in our nation’s history.

Local police departments play a critical role in upholding the rule of law, ensuring public safety, and keeping an ordered peace. The vast majority of police officers are incredible heroes who selflessly serve their communities, often at the risk of their own personal safety and the well-being of their families.

Unfortunately, Democrats in the House and Senate are standing in the way of this forward-thinking legislation that ensures police officers are better trained to protect the communities they serve.

However, recent events have shown that, like in every organization, our police departments are not immune from a small group of bad actors who erode public trust in the enormously important role law enforcement plays in our civil society.

Much can and should be done to help bring about mutual respect between police and the communities they serve. Our national conversation about the need for improvement in law enforcement practices has produced many possible solutions to a problem that has reached an inflection point.

As the calls for law enforcement reform grew, and before any legislation was crafted by either Democrats or Republicans, I wanted to hear directly from law enforcement and community leaders about what was already being done on the ground to change the way policing is conducted.

Over the past several weeks, I have traveled around Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District to hold law enforcement improvement listening sessions. I have heard from members of the black community, religious leaders, elected officials, law enforcement agencies, police training experts, and others to get a sense of what is already being done locally that can be replicated nationally – and what needs to be done that departments have yet to implement.

One common theme that I have heard is that local police departments cannot and should not be run from Washington. Policing in rural Pennsylvania vastly differs from what is required in urban areas. Any police improvement legislation should reflect this reality.

In our first listening session, in Sunbury, Pa., we heard from a police force of nine officers that has changed its policing model to focus on the needs of the community and increased training.

The Sunbury Police Department credited its success to its participation in a statewide law enforcement accreditation providing broad guidelines that can be met with locally-tailored training. We also learned that roughly only 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s law enforcement agencies are accredited.

That means most municipal police officers are performing their jobs with a dearth of basic training, insufficient continuing education, and without implementing best practices in areas like use of force and de-escalation.

In Wellsboro, Pa., we met with folks from the Emergency Response Training and Certification Association (ERTCA), a Pennsylvania-based law enforcement training organization that models itself after continuing education for medical professionals.


ERTCA advocates for standardizing continuing education for law enforcement and increasing training in community policing. The idea is to show police officers how positive interactions with the public make their jobs easier.

Former law enforcement officers and training experts told us that some police academies devote only 3 percent of training time to community policing and developing an understanding of the root causes of crime. ERTCA, by contrast, stresses that training focused on top-down change and a common understanding between community members and police will bring about positive outcomes.

While ERTCA is a Pennsylvania initiative, its focus on community-oriented policing and problem solving should serve as a model for how local police departments across America train their officers to interact with the communities they serve.


These are just a few of the many examples of what we heard on the ground to help improve law enforcement practices.

The JUSTICE Act would be an important first step to put these improvements in place, and deserves support from House and Senate members of both parties.