Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Calls for "Automatic" Federal Investigations of Deaths in Police Custody

At tonight's Democratic debate, the Vermont senator says if "a police officer breaks the law...that officer must be held accountable."

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At tonight's Democratic presidential debate in

Automatic for the people.
Youtube/NBC News

Charleston, SC, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) pledged that if elected, deaths while in police custody would trigger an "automatic" federal investigation. 

NBC News moderators Lester Holt and Andrea Mitchell presented the candidates with questions from "prominent voices on Youtube." One of these voices, Franchesca Ramsey, who Holt said "tackles racial stereotypes through her videos," asked: 

I believe there's a huge conflict of interest when local prosecutors investigate cases of police violence within their own communities.

For example, last month, the officers involved in the case of 12- year-old Tamir Rice weren't indicted. How would your presidency ensure that incidents of police violence are investigated and prosecuted fairly?

Holt put the question to Sanders, who replied:

This is a responsibility for the U.S. Justice Department to get involved. Whenever anybody in this country is killed while in police custody, it should automatically trigger a U.S. attorney general's investigation.

Second of all, and I speak as a mayor who worked very closely and well with police officers, the vast majority of whom are honest, hard- working people trying to do a difficult job, but let us be clear.

If a police officer breaks the law, like any public official, that officer must be held accountable.

It's not clear if Sanders misunderstood the question, was engaging in clever deflection, or was merely tossing out one of his patented throaty calls for drastic reforms that he couldn't possibly have thought of a way to pay for.

Ramsey's question directly referred to "incidents of police violence," but Sanders' answer promised action over deaths "while in police custody." Does that mean after a suspect has been detained? Or did he simply misspeak?

If Sanders was indeed answering the question asked, it is reasonable to infer that he was calling for around 1,000 "automatic" federal investigations a year, based on The Washington Post's unofficial tally of fatalities at the hands of US police forces in 2015.

On The Atlantic's live debate blog, Conor Friedersdorf suggested that "federal funding for hiring special prosecutors at local level [sic] to investigate officer involved shootings is one possibility" for how Sanders' plan could be implemented. An interesting suggestion, as it is hard to imagine how the Justice Department would be able to scrounge up the resources to pursue that kind of a workload without massive staff increases. Either way, you could be sure such a sweeping measure would be met with significant pushback by both police unions and tough-on-crime politicians at every level of government.

Later in his reply to Ramsey, Sanders added, "we have got to de-militarize our police departments so they don't look like occupying armies." This is a welcome statement from a legitimately viable candidate of one of the two major parties (sorry, Rand Paul) and presents a stark contrast with this past week's Republican presidential debate, where the issue of criminal justice reform was completely ignored. 

While Sanders' seeming commitment to criminal justice reform is admirable, he underestimates the entrenched opposition to transparency by US law enforcement agencies, the same groups who mostly refuse the FBI's request for them to voluntarily turn over their data pertaining to deadly uses of force. 

A less dramatic but far more realistic proclamation would be for Sanders to promise that, as president, he would call for legislation requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to maintain and submit all data pertaining to killings by police, so that we don't have to rely on the news media and volunteers to do the government's job.  

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  1. Transfer the politicized investigations up the ladder. This sounds like a great plan. Sure everyone will get due process.

    1. And your alternative?

      Do nothing and pretend there is not a problem?

    2. As I understand it, part of the problem is that the local prosecutors have a close working relationship with the police, so transferring the responsibility “up the ladder” would mean a more impartial prosecutor.

  2. “If a police officer breaks the law, like any public official, that officer must be held accountable.”

    Said while on stage with Hillary Clinton.

    1. BERN GOT BURNED

    2. So did the DNC cue the laugh-track at that point?

    3. It isn’t illegal when somebody who really wants to be president does it.

    4. “The American people are sick and tired of hearin’ about ya damn emails!!” /proggycirclejerk

  3. Absolutely, cause federal involvement has always been the fast track to liberty and justice.

    1. Not to mention they need legal authority. The Feds must have a legal basis for actually pursuing any action against the police. This is a great solution . . . let the Feds charge anyone they want with anything they want because . . . “justice”.

      1. The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted to give the Feds that authority.

    2. The sad truth is that the federal government has often been a check on the oppression of individuals by the States. This is why minorities are supportive of the federal government. Libertarians can deny this all they want, but there seems to be this weird dynamic where state governments protect community coercion and the federal government protects individuals against such community coercion. I think this is because local prejudices get averaged out at the federal level.

      1. More often in the modern ere the Federal government has proven to be a source of oppression for all. I do not trust Bernie Sanders to change this one iota.

        This is merely a power grab and another element of the progressive approach to Federalizing everything.

        It is entirely analogous to the EPA and the Clean Water Act, where even drainage ditches are now under Federal control.

      2. That’s because of the Bill of Rights – your state doesn’t have one.

  4. Because the answer to everything is for Washington to get involved!

    1. Like a 16 year-old with a hard-on : he just knows he is supposed to stick it in somewhere!

    2. In the case of police misconduct which infringes on rights, yes. That was rather the point of the Fourteenth Amendment.

      1. “infringes on rights” . . . wow, that’s great. Then they should start with the Executive Branch, go to the Judicial Branch and maybe get to the Congress.
        You infringe on my right not to hear this crap! Call the Feds.

        1. We certainly do have problems at the Federal level, but that’s not an excuse for state and local officials to violate the rights of people. Nor is it an excuse for the Feds to shirk their delegated responsibility under the Fourteenth Amendment.

  5. “Police violence?” I thought the police are The. Only. Ones. that can be trusted with guns to save us all from “gun violence.” God I hate these fucking people. The amount of cognitive dissonance required to be a prog is staggering.

    1. What have actual progs said or wrote about this?

      1. I am a Progressive; I’ll give it a shot:

        I think having police forces is an excellent way to protect the public, if they are well-regulated, well-trained, well-compensated, and professional. There should be firm rules in place governing the actions of these policemen, and particularly harsh sanctions against corruption or gross malfeasance. Without such a system, trust is impossible, and the police forces become the organized crime syndicates we see across the country today.

        Seems like Bernie’s message, and it seems irrefutable to me.

        1. I don’t have a problem with this.

  6. Well, I think Bernie’s got a great idea.

    If the Justice Department spent all its time investigating police, and the police spent all their time being investigated by the Justice Department, the rest of us would be a heckofalot safer.

    1. Don’t be ridiculous. The DOJ would just add another bureau devoted entirely to police investigations, costing the taxpayers an extra $500M a year.

      1. Being ridiculous was the point.

      2. The cities and states would probably save money from lawsuits and settlements because the police would have to be more careful.

  7. “For example, last month, the officers involved in the case of 12- year-old Tamir Rice weren’t indicted.”

    Putting it that way gives the creepy, Cardassian-style vibe of “The defendant has been charged; the verdict is guilty, let the trial begin.”

    Not that they *weren’t* in this case, but still…

    1. That would depend on the local law applicable to the Rice case.

      If the law were written the say it *ought* to be, then the cops, in confronting someone they believe may be armed, will first demand the suspect “drop your weapon and put your hands up.” If the suspect doesn’t, then is the time to escalate.

      If one of their own number goes nuts and starts waving a gun around, this is the procedure the cops use.

      And in the case of that judge who called the cops to his house and then shot one of them, the cops were *very* restrained and didn’t kill the judge.

      Give people like Rice the same benefit of the doubt.

      But I don’t know if the local laws actually embodies those principles. If not, the answer is to change the law, not to indict under the pretense that the law already is what it ought to be.

  8. Ah, yes, the Feds. The very bastion of ethical law enforcement. Who better to investigate local officers than the same people who had agents posing as Oregon rancher protesters in a covert sabotage mission.
    “Agent Pot, you’ll be investigating, Officer Kettle.”

    1. “Agent Pot, you’ll be investigating, Officer Kettle.”
      Racist!

      1. Dammit, you caught my micro-aggression!

  9. I may be missing something. The whole quip about militarized police really seemed out of place. I don’t recall any incident where a police officer wearing or using military style gear made a questionable kill. No Michael Browns or Tamire Rices like scandals involved officers of those type.

    Seems to me to be just another case of Democrats using the tactic of pointing to something many people can agree on to go after something unrelated. For example, pointing to victims of school shootings to push Universal Background Checks.

    1. Michael Brown scandal?

      That was one situation where Obama and Holder had every incentive to prosecute. But they reluctantly concluded that there just wasn’t the evidence. In fact, Officer Wilson actually seemed to be an innocent man who acted in self-defense.

    2. SWAT team raids that end in them attacking the wrong house and killing an innocent person. Those are highly militarized exercises of police conduct. No knock warrants and raids while suspects are in bed are recipe for dangerous shoots out between cops, criminals and the innocent alike.

      1. Remember the DOJ and the FBI have investigated police departments all over the country. Cleveland, Baltimore, New Orleans, L. A. New Mexico, all over the country and not ONE police officer has been held accountable. Police unions and the FOP are not afraid of the government because they know nothing will happen. The set up fake local committees to monitor the police and police unions contaminate those committees and still nothing happens. The only way to hold the police accountable is to dissolve/defund police unions.

    3. How about when that militarized SWAT team on a questionable raid questionably threw a flashbang on a baby

  10. Some states (again, I’m thinking Reason’s Montana story) trigger an inquest in all cases of cop-involved deaths.

    But Sanders is still thinking in terms of the feds going into Jim Crow Mississippi to penetrate local cover-ups and prosecuting the cops and Klan who killed civil rights workers.

    In practice, the only time the feds will focus on prosecuting a cop is not when the cop is guilty but when the media has been making a big deal of “white cop kills gentle giant” and opportunistic criminals in the “community” react by burning and looting stores.

    1. Well no the Justice Dept did investigate the shooting of Michael Brown which you are eluding to and found that officer Wilson was justified in killing Michael Brown. Justice served.

      1. But they did find law enforcement officers used racial profiling and brutalized and violated there civil rights. They found officers used tortured residents and verbally abuse and even murdered citizens. The police departments are filled with neo-nazi militias.

      2. And they were right, in that particular case.

  11. “a legitimately viable candidate of one of the two major parties (sorry, Rand Paul)”

    Gosh, thanks, Captain Bringdown!

  12. It’s not clear if Sanders misunderstood the question, was engaging in clever deflection, or was merely tossing out one of his patented throaty calls for drastic reforms that he couldn’t possibly have thought of a way to pay for.”

    For once I think Bern might have already paid for something he proposes. If the Justice Dept. is no longer involved in a War on Drugs, they should have plenty of people and funds to investigate police shootings.

  13. More government is needed to fix the problem government created. Yep, Bernie is a One Note Wonder

    1. checks and balances? We don’t give unlimited power in this country to any authority despite what Obama thinks.

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  15. “On The Atlantic’s live debate blog, Conor Friedersdorf suggested that “federal funding for hiring special prosecutors at local level [sic] to investigate officer involved shootings is one possibility” for how Sanders’ plan could be implemented. An interesting suggestion, as it is hard to imagine how the Justice Department would be able to scrounge up the resources to pursue that kind of a workload without massive staff increases.”

    Really? It’s hard to imagine? REALLY?

    1. Meaning it’s hard to imagine them diverting their resources from their urgently important task of closing medical marijuana operations in violation of their appropriations bill.

  16. Most commenters on this article seem to me to be very confused. Unlike many other right-leaning individuals, libertarians actually seem to care about abuses of power by local police. But then when it comes to doing anything about it, some reject any actual solutions.

    Here is why you need federal involvement. Local prosecutors are usually elected. Local law enforcement are usually elected. Local prosecutors and local law enforcement are constantly working with each other. They really view each as being on the same team.

    To assume that a local prosecutor is going to make an unbiased decision regarding whether to prosecute a member of law enforcement is to assume too much. Of course, in some instances, local prosecutors do just this. But more often, they structure things such that the police officer will not be prosecuted. For career, political, and personal reasons, local prosecutors are simply too strongly biased in favor of local law enforcement. These are colleagues.

    This is why having independent prosectors makes sense. You need people who have no connections with local law enforcement for their career well-being making these calls.

    While it is true that in some areas federal involvement does more harm than good, in this area, our freedom and liberty are more secure with federal oversight.

    Here is a thought. Having your freedom and liberty infringed is not any better just because it is a local official rather than a federal official doing the infringing.

    1. This is why having independent prosectors makes sense. You need people who have no connections with local law enforcement for their career well-being making these calls.

      Independent ? federal.

      1. True. You could do it at the state level. But federal prosecutors are one way to approach the issue that will solve things in the whole nation.

        Regardless, you should not have local prosecutors making these calls.

        1. True.

          Also, you can file Bernie’s reform recommendation under “Shit that will never happen.”

      2. You don’t get it. There are ALWAYS underlying problems that are the proverbial strings attached to any federal involvement. The feds would hand this off to the DOJ. The DOJ would create a sub-department which requires funding. Those in charge would want more funding since that equals bigger pay and more resources. The way to get more funding is prove your department is “needed”. So the DOJ feds will go after every officer, no matter the circumstances, with blind, money hungry zealotry. Seeking more funding, they’ll argue it should be them that file charges, lead the prosecute and hold the trial with federal judges. Then they will say it shouldn’t be just deaths. Eventually this now bloated agency will be investigating every instance of any police complaint. This, is how the feds operate.

        1. Yes, always strings attached. One rant is hate crimes, and I think South Park lampooned that well. How about ALL violent crime be a hate crime? Not a hate crime based on X individual doing something to non X individuals. I’m sick and tired of the government *enforcing* that “all the animals on the farm are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

    2. What a moronic comment.

      1. If you are referring to your own comment, then I agree.

        So, you have enough energy to disagree, but not enough to say why?

    3. What’s been happening in Albaquerque is a case in point. There we do have a prosecutor who is pursuing a case against police misconduct, and the police as an institution are fighting it.

  17. Embedded in Sander’s proposal is the assumption that the federal government is above the state. To him there is a national government with fifty- some branches. Democracy!!

    1. In some respects, the federal government is above the states. If you recall, federal laws do trump state laws. So, in that respect, the federal government is above the states.

      Remember, also, your freedom and liberty is no less infringed just because it is a state or local official doing the infringing.

      1. But federal jurisdiction is limited. They have no authority to prosecute crimes by local police, or to mandate that states hire a special prosecutor.

        1. The Feds do have jurisdiction under the Constitution when state officials violate rights.

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  19. What should we do when officials and candidates break the laws of economics?

    1. “So what if it’s an economic law? We amend laws all the time.” – U.S. Senators

    2. Ticket them, just the same as when someone breaks the speed (limit) of light or any of the laws of thermodynamics.

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  21. Easy way to pay for this. Close the DEA and open the PEA (police enforcement agency). Of course most of the crooked cops will leave the force if you ended the war on drugs because they would lose a nice portion of their ill-gotten money.

  22. Robots! I saw a headline today that robots will replace X number of jobs by 2020. Let’s let them replace the DOJ.

    Facts in. Verdict out. Like Turbo Tax. What could possibly go wrong with that?

    Q1: Was the suspect armed? Y/N …. Y
    Q999: Do you wish to “donate” to the President Clinton reelection campaign? (Y/N)… Y
    Verdict: Officer Smith is NOT Guilty.

    1. +1 Forbin Project

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  25. The proggy masses are forwarding the narrative that it’s always white cops committing crimes against non-white citizens. And that is the way any big government programs are going to be steered towards, with the lame stream media picking and choosing their stories to goad the situation along. If there would be meaningful checks and balances on police then fine, but something tells me that won’t happen since fairness programs aren’t fair.

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  32. I have seen a lot of comments relating to costs: Let’s examine them.

    There were about 1000 police related deaths in 2015 = about 20 per week.
    Each investigation would require a 2 person team = 40 investigators per week.
    Add 50% for overflow of case load or cases which require longer time = 60 investigators.
    Each team needs a supervisor ( a reasonable ratio would be 1 to 6) = 10 supervisors.
    There needs to be 2 sub-directors and a director = 3
    A total of 73 agents

    There are Currently about 14000 FBI agents per their website.
    There are currently about 3800 Deputy Marshals in the US Marshals Service per their website

    Between the 2 services there are about 18000 Investigators.

    I think that a special task force utilizing existing personnel would not be out of order.

    Add 2 lawyers with 6 assistants for them = 8 (From DOJ)

    Then you could use 1 Federal Judge as required. This would be based on the area of the investigation.

    Adding support personnel and office space should not add too much extra cost. Maybe 6-10 million.

    That sounds like a lot unless you consider that a new Abrams Tank costs about 8.5 million each. This is a piece of equipment that the Army does not even want, yet is still being produced. Reducing production by 2 tanks per year should fund this program easily.

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  36. “t’s not clear if Sanders misunderstood the question, was engaging in clever deflection, or was merely tossing out one of his patented throaty calls for drastic reforms that he couldn’t possibly have thought of a way to pay for”

    Oh my – here we have a Libertarian saying that America is too poor to pay for a consistent policy of civilian monitoring of the police? Is the author a dedicated Servile Authoritarian? Are you just a knee-jerk Sanders troll? Are you a racist with no other moral principles?

    That’s about it…

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  39. Good or Reason to bring this to everyone’s attention. I always argue that Sanders has much in common with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. This article is proof. LOCAL police is one of the great defenses of our liberty. The reason this country has a high degree of liberty is that everything is specifically designed to push power to the LOCAL level as much as possible. Sanders is a fascist and is willing to enforce his views on the rest of us and will use the Federal police to do it. Living proof of Hayek’s proposition that socialism/communism must always summon the power of the state to enforce its edicts. I fear for my country because so few people understand this and will vote for this man because they think he will give the “free” college or something.

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