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S. 1610: Walter Scott Notification Act of 2017

Context

A 2015 FBI investigation revealed that more than half the people killed by police went uncounted in the country’s official crime statistics.

In October 2016, mere weeks before the election, Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the creation of a federal database. However, this was not mandated by Congress or by law, allowing a potential future Justice Department to slow-walk the initiative or even overturn it — as Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to have done.

The lack of a federal database on shootings committed by police has caused others to cobble together their own based on news reports, most famously the Washington Post database which has documented 198 people shot and killed by police so far in 2018. They also found 987 people in 2017, up slightly from 963 people in 2016 and down slightly from 995 people in 2015.

However, the lack of a federal database on shootings committed by police means any such independently compiled list runs the risk of being incomplete.

What the bill does

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) the only black Republican in the Senate, has introduced the Walter Scott Notification Act which would create the first federally-mandated database of police shootings. Information included by each state would include:

  • The victim’s name, race, age, and sex
  • The officer’s name, race, age, and sex;
  • Whether the victim was armed or not
  • A description of the weapon used by law enforcement
  • A detailed description of the event
  • The finding from law enforcement as to whether the shooting was justified or not

Any state which refuses to comply would face a 10 percent reduction in federal law enforcement grants and funds.

The bill is named after Walter Scott (no relation to Sen. Scott), an unarmed black man fatally shot by a police officer in Sen. Scott’s home state of South Carolina in 2015 as he was running away from a police officer who pulled him over for a broken brake light. Video footage of the incident galvanized the movement against police shootings. The white cop who committed the shooting, Michael Slager, was sentenced in December to 20 years in prison.

The bill was introduced in July 2017, numbered S. 1610.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill is a necessary governmental response to this decade’s epidemic of police shootings.

“When it comes to tracking police shootings, we need a data system built for the 21st century,” Senate lead sponsor Scott said in a press release. “I introduced this legislation… in hopes of capturing more details and facts so that we can better address the issues that lead to officer-related shooting deaths. I believe this can help us keep both our officers and our communities safer.”

What opponents say

While GovTrack Insider was unable to locate statements of opposition to this specific bill, President Trump and his Justice Department have largely turned a blind eye to victims of police shootings and instead insist that law enforcement are the real victims.

“The laws are so horrendously stacked against us, because for years and years they’ve been made to protect the criminal. Totally made to protect the criminal, not the officers,” Trump told a gathering of law enforcement officialslast July. “If you do something wrong, you’re in more jeopardy than they are. These laws are stacked against you.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted one cosponsor, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), but that’s not just any cosponsor — Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill would need to pass in order to receive a full Senate vote.

A previous version introduced by Sen. Scott in 2015 never received a vote.

Last updated Mar 16, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jul 20, 2017.


Walter Scott Notification Act of 2017

This bill requires a state that receives funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program to report certain data on deadly shootings by law enforcement officers. It reduces by 10% the JAG allocation of a state that fails to comply.

Additionally, the bill amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to modify requirements under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. During the four-year period following enactment, the Department of Justice (DOJ) may give preference to a COPS program grant applicant from a state that reports data on deadly shootings by law enforcement. Beginning in the fifth year, DOJ must reduce by 20% the COPS allocation of a state that fails to report such data.

DOJ, in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, must issue guidance to standardize data collection on deadly shootings by law enforcement. DOJ must also audit and review data reports, determine compliance with requirements, and publish such data.