Cleaver Sees Potential in Administration’s Action on Police Brutality

Posted April 20, 2015 at 12:03pm

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., has been frustrated in his attempts to get Congress to move on an overhaul of police practices.

But he’s taken heart that despite Congress’ reluctance to get involved in issues of police brutality, the Obama administration has taken executive action — and plans to do more.

A report the Department of Justice issued last month, for instance, is already forcing the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department to make changes following the shooting of Michael Brown last August. The police chief has resigned and the mayor is promising a campaign to improve police-community relations.

The Justice Department, using a 1994 law enacted after the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1991, can take police departments to court and force them to sign agreements to make specific changes. Stephen Rushin, a University of Illinois law professor who studies the law’s use, said its funding levels allow the Justice Department to investigate a handful of departments a year.

Money is tight in Washington, but President Barack Obama in December asked Congress to provide $263 million in matching grants to help police buy body cameras. He also established a task force to make recommendations on the future of government programs providing military equipment to police departments. The report is expected any day.

That’s progress in Cleaver’s mind. “Change is taking place,” he said.

An earlier version of this post misspelled Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II’s name.