St. Louis, MO – U.S. Representative William “Lacy” Clay (D-Missouri) announced new legislation on Friday that would change the use-of-force standard for federal law enforcement officers.
Clay’s proposed measure, known as the PEACE Act, would require police officers to use de-escalation techniques before resorting to deadly force, KMOV reported.
The measure would require states to enact similar use-of-force legislation in order to qualify for federal funding for their law enforcement.
“It would set a new standard. And it makes sense,” Clay told reporters at a press conference to introduce the PEACE Act on Aug. 9. “If the rest of the civilized world can abide by these standards, then it helps us get to a place where we need to be in law enforcement.”
“This new act... changes the way that communities are policed,” he said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Today we continue to strive towards making our country a more perfect union where black lives are respected and valued.”
The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Representative Ro Khanna (D-California), was introduced on the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, a controversial officer-involved shooting that led to riots in Ferguson and the promotion of Black Lives Matter.
“Ferguson was a dramatic symptom of an illness that is prevalent across our nation” in which some officers “hired to protect and serve essentially terrorize our communities,” Clay said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing in Michael Brown’s death by a St. Louis County grand jury and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation under President Barack Obama’s administration.
The federal investigation concluded that the evidence supported Officer Wilson’s claim that he was acting in self-defense and that Brown was attacking him when the officer opened fire, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Clay told reporters that he thought that Brown's unprovoked attack on Officer Wilson “could have been defused in another way,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“We’ve learned the names of black men and women that should not have to be known solely because of their deaths by law enforcement: Mike Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and far too many others,” Clay said.
More than 20 additional lawmakers have signed on to support the PEACE Act, which stands for Police Exercising Absolute Care with Everyone.
Donald Mihalek, executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation, pointed out that every federal agency already has a use of force policy that requires deadly force only when an imminent threat of danger to the officer or another person exists.
“Attempting to further restrict a [law enforcement officer’s] use of force parameters will only endanger the officer or others,” Mihalek told Blue Lives Matter in an email. “The NYPD Officers who had buckets and water hurled at them is indicative of a use of force dynamic from their leadership that discourages and punishes officers for taking action.”
Mihalek was referencing multiple recent incidents in New York City where criminals assaulted police officers responding to emergency calls by dumping buckets of water on them.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous 1989 decision in Graham vs. Connor has long been the standard for use-of-force decisions.
“It provides a reasonable officer standard for use of force decisions based on a totality of circumstances,” Mihalek told Blue Lives Matter. “The court recognized you can’t judge these incidents that often occur in microseconds with 20/20 hindsight.”
Washington University law professor Peter Joy said the courts have held that an officer in reasonable fear for their life and safety is permitted to use whatever force they deem necessary, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“They don’t have to make a judgment [such as] will a stun gun be sufficient,” Joy said.
The professor said he doubted Clay’s bill would pass, partly because of its conflict with stand-your-ground laws enacted by multiple states that allow regular citizens to defend themselves in an attack, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Joy said that if the PEACE Act passed, law enforcement officers “would have less options than citizens would have under stand-your-ground.”
During his announcement of the proposed legislation, Clay said that law enforcement supported his plan, KMOV reported.
However, St. Louis Police Officers Association Spokesman Jeff Roorda, said that is not the case for local law enforcement.
“It’s a very uninformed position the congressman is taking,” Roorda told KMOV. “Every police department in the United States has a continuum of force that they go through before they use deadly force. There’s not a police department in the country that doesn’t use deadly force as a last resort. I don’t know what the goal of this legislation is other than making noise.”