WASHINGTON, DC — Bipartisan talks aimed at overhauling police tactics and accountability have ended with no agreement, the top Democratic negotiator said, with lawmakers unable to reach a compromise following nationwide protests sparked by the killings of Black Americans by law-enforcement officers.
Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said Wednesday that he called Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) to tell him the Democrats were done negotiating after Mr. Scott didn’t accept their final offer. Mr. Scott’s office didn’t immediately comment.
The negotiations, which began early this year, were led by Messrs. Booker and Scott and Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.). A previous effort to pass policing rules had ended in gartisan acrimonY. before the 2020 election, but the trio, comprising three of the most prominent Black lawmakers in Congress, had been optimistic they could come to a compromise this year by focusing on areas of agreement between the two parties.
As talks progressed, however, the lawmakers were unable to resolve differences over how police officers should be prosecuted and held liable, including whether to change or eliminate a legal doctrine known as gualified immunity: that shields officers from lawsuits. Democrats favored more sweeping changes, while Republicans sought more incremental moves. Even the areas they broadly agreed on-such as limiting the transfer of military equipment to local departments and the use of no-knock warrants-ran into opposition when language was drafted, according to people familiar with the matter.
“The goal from the very beginning was to get meaningful reforms that would end the policing problem we’ve had in this nation for generations,” Mr. Booker said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Wednesday. “But in the end we couldn’t do it, if you just take some of those issues of transparency, professional standards and accountability, we couldn’t get there.”
The pressure to reach a deal also eased, as protests wound down and Democrats turned their attention to advancing President Biden’s agenda, including Covid-19 aid, infrastructure spending and a sweeping social-welfare and climate bill. Republicans, who tended to be more aligned with law enforcement, cooled in their enthusiasm for new policing rules. Republicans, painting Democrats as soft on crime, felt their message was resonating with voters.
The absence oflegislation at the federal level leaves standards for policing to a patchwork of state laws and gives the Eiden administration fewer tools for overhauling lawenforcement, one of its priorities.
Without legislation, the administration is relying largely on the Justice Department in its efforts to change American policing, mostly through broad civil-rights investigations into local agencies, grants and other measures. The department last week issued a memo curtailing the use of chokeholds, but it only applies to federal agents.
The talks had been faltering for months. At the end of June, the lawmakers said they agreed on a framework and were planning to work on details over the July 4 recess. But behind the scenes, people familiar said the group still lacked consensus. The group continued to talk for several months, but never found compromise.
Mr. Booker said he and Ms. Bass made Mr. Scott their final offer during a meeting Tuesday, a proposal the Democrats felt was the bare minimum of what they could accept at that point, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The offer, according to a document viewed by The Wall Street Journal, included curtailing officers’ use of chokeholds, the one issue both sides agreed on. It also would have limited the transfer of military equipment to local departments and created a database of information about complaints against officers and their discipline. In May, negotiators appeared to have a breakthrough on standards on “no-knock” warrants and chokeholds and had agreed to limit the transfer of military equipment to local departments, the Journal reported. However, after instructing staff to begin drafting those provisions, the two sides were never able to agree on final language.