Package of policing related bills expected for session, lawmakers say

Package of policing related bills expected for session, lawmakers say
Some Alabama Senate Democrats plan to propose a package of bills related to policing and criminal justice next regular legislative session. (Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Some Alabama Senate Democrats plan to propose a package of bills related to policing and criminal justice next regular legislative session, according to Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.

Singleton said lawmakers are looking at drafting legislation aimed at increasing law enforcement sensitivity and de-escalation training.

“I think there’s not enough training,” he said. “I believe that police is vital to order in our community, but we just want to make sure that we we have good cops that are out there.”

An APOST-certified officer requires 520 hours of basic training, 12 hours of continual training and firearms re-qualification is also required annually.

Alabama Fraternal Order of Police President Everette Johnson said he believes there is training addressing that, but said more can be done.

“As law enforcement officers, we never turn down the opportunity to train,” Johnson said. “We’re not opposed to having the opportunity to train and learn more.”

Johnson said the challenges to training include funding and staffing, specifically with smaller agencies.

“The agencies tend to pay for their officers to go to this training. When that officer is away at training, someone has to take his place so that our communities can be safe,” he said. “ While the talk is great, and yes there needs to be more training involved with law enforcement over that, there are some hurdles that these agencies have to go over in order to provide that kind of service.”

APOSTC Executive Secretary Chief R. Alan Benefield said the commission is working to put more emphasis on the importance of implicit bias and de-escalation training.

“I fully expect the Commission will adopt additional academy training blocks in the near future that will shine a brighter light on implicit bias and de-escalation training for Alabama law enforcement officers,” Benefield said.

He said training curriculums are reviewed annually.

“Continuing education is a constant tool for officers to stay up-to-date on the most current, pertinent, and relevant topics and issues facing our communities today,” he said. “While the Commission mandates continuing education training be completed each year, the Commission currently allows agency administrators to determine what training is most beneficial to the agency and its officers.”

Singleton said they would also look at increasing background checks for law enforcement.

“They can go and have infractions on one force and go to another one and nobody really checked the background checks on on them,” he said.

Johnson said new officers already go through extensive background checks. However, he said an officer’s disciplinary record is sealed after leaving the job. Johnson said information that is provided includes whether the former employer would hire them again.

“As far as releasing any type of discipline issues or personnel issues, those things are sealed unless they are subpoenaed in court,” Johnson said. “Law enforcement agencies that hire someone to join their force do an extensive background check. If they don’t, they should.”

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said the agency can request more detailed information from another agency about an officer before hiring them.

“Most of the time you get what you’re asking,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham also pointed out that it’s common to not receive a disciplinary record from other non-policing-related jobs.

Singleton said the package of bills would also include a profiling bill, which has has failed in past legislative sessions.

“I just want to make sure that, that if police officers are trained to the point to where that if they see four young African-American men in a car that it is not assumed that something is wrong, or versus they see four white Americans drive in a car that is okay,” he said.

Other parts of the legislation could deal with qualified immunity, he said.

“I feel very confident in a bipartisan manner that we can sit down and have these real conversations about whether we go into a state of what we think that criminal justice and policing should look like in the state,” Singleton said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he will be in discussions with Sen. Singleton.

“We have total respect for the law enforcement community. There are bad apples,” Marsh said. “We respect and appreciate the job, we are in no mood to disband police forces. We want to work with them to improve and to make sure the proper training is there.”

For Johnson, he said legislation providing more mental health resources for those law enforcement encounter would help as well.

“Mental health is a public safety issue in the state,” he said. “These people who suffer from crisis, they’re not necessarily criminals, they’re just dealing with an issue that needs to be addressed by treatment.”

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