Bipartisan Police Reform Talks Collapse on Capitol Hill

The collapse of negotiations all but closed off the possibility that Congress would act on an issue that President Biden has promised to tackle.

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Bipartisan police reform talks are officially dead on Capitol Hill.

Senator Cory BookerCredit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Sept. 22, 2021, 3:29 p.m. ET

Lawmakers attempting to strike a bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul declared on Wednesday that their efforts had failed, formally ending the latest round of negotiations amid the same disagreements that have bedeviled them for more than a year.

The announcement by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Democrats’ lead emissary on the issue, acknowledged what had been apparent for months, as talks have fizzled with no sign of a breakthrough. It all but closed off the possibility that Congress would act on an issue that President Biden has promised to tackle, amid a groundswell of public support for addressing systemic racism in law enforcement.

A group of Republicans and Democrats began negotiating in April following the guilty verdict of a police officer in the George Floyd murder trial, hoping the ruling would provide fresh momentum to break an impasse that had persisted since Mr. Floyd’s death in 2020. But for months preceding Wednesday’s announcement, negotiators had been unable to come to an agreement on a slew of issues, including whether to change criminal and civil penalties to make it easier to punish police officers for misconduct.

“We weren’t making any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform for Americans’ policing,” Mr. Booker said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Mr. Booker said he called Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who had been negotiating on behalf of Republicans, on Wednesday morning and determined they would not be able to bridge what had become “too wide a gulf.” Both men had previously set several deadlines for a breakthrough but had barreled through them each time, publicly expressing optimism that a deal was just within reach.

In a statement, Mr. Scott blamed Democrats for the collapse, accusing them of letting their “misguided idea of perfect be the enemy of good, impactful legislation.”

In reality, a wide array of issues had dogged the negotiations for months, including restrictions on deadly use of force, the creation of a national database to track police misconduct and whether victims of misconduct could more easily sue officers or their departments in court.

Their efforts were complicated by internal squabbling among police unions, as Republican lawmakers were reluctant to cross the National Sheriffs’ Association, a more conservative union. On Wednesday, Mr. Booker vented frustration that their opposition to the bill had superseded the progress that he and other Democrats had made in winning support from other police union groups, including the powerful Fraternal Order of Police.

“The painful thing for me is we pulled off some pretty big accomplishments,” Mr. Booker said. “We got the F.O.P. and International Association of Chiefs of Police to agree on some pretty incredible things that would have improved the profession, that would have protected police officers.”

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