In the wake of last week’s police shooting of Alton Sterling, the two congressmen representing Baton Rouge will introduce legislation Wednesday to provide police with training on de-escalating incidents and help law enforcement get nonlethal weapons.
Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was killed by Baton Rouge police in a convenience store parking lot on July 5 following a brief confrontation. Since his death, which was caught on graphic video, there have been several days of protests throughout the city that have led to nearly 200 arrests.
The two congressmen, one a white Republican, the other a black Democrat, said it is important to find some way to address the growing violence and the divide between law enforcement and many members of the public. Their bill won’t tackle all the issues, but it’s way to get started quickly.
They plan to introduce the legislation first thing Wednesday morning in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure likely will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
“It is important that we respond now and show that we get it,” said U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who represents the north Baton Rouge neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
“We don’t think this is the end-all. But we think that starting to look at this research is a very good start,” he said in an interview with The Advocate late Tuesday.
“Congressman Richmond and I are trying to come up with some solutions, at least in the interim, ” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who lives about two miles from where the shooting took place.
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The bill would establish a new office within the U.S. Department of Justice to review, develop and deploy nonlethal technology, Graves said in an interview with The Advocate late Tuesday. It would also provide funds for training police around the country on de-escalation techniques.
The new Justice Department office would look at technology being developed by the military and at the Office of Homeland Security, then try to refine those weapons for law enforcement. Additionally, it would look to developing new technologies, Graves said.
Richmond added, “Is there anything between a Taser and lethal force? We’re the country that put a man on the moon. If we put the incentives out there, someone will develop it.”
Graves said the bill would authorize $150 million of spending in the first year, then $100 million for the next three years and $125 million in the fifth year. The new spending is offset against existing funding so that it doesn’t create new taxpayer liabilities, he added.
The office also would facilitate training of de-escalation techniques for law enforcement around the country.
One of the main complaints among Baton Rouge protesters is that interactions between police officers, whose jobs are stressful and inherently dangerous, and some members of the public, particularly young, African-American males, often become overly aggressive and lead to irreversible results. The training would help officers develop skills and techniques that would better handle anger-provoking situations.
Graves said the goal is to “give law enforcement more tools and try eliminate or decrease these incidents where you have these outcomes like we saw recently in Baton Rouge or other places.”
“It was important for Garret and I to do something early and to demonstrate that we can cross party lines to do something,” Richmond said, adding they are hopeful this legislative would set the tone for future discussions of a very complex issue. “We are in for a long, hot violent summer, if we don’t take this seriously.”
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