Democrats Propose Requiring Federal Law Enforcement Officers to Identify Themselves During Protests
“Transparency is a building block of public trust and federal law enforcement officials who hid their identities were not serving the public's interest,” said one lawmaker.
This week, Democrats introduced legislation that would require federal law enforcement officials to identify themselves when responding to protests. The proposal follows uncertainty over some officers’ affiliations during the recent rallies against police brutality and racial injustice in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25.
On Monday, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the "Law Enforcement Identification Act." A group of House Democrats introduced a companion version on Thursday. Thousands of federal law enforcement officials from various agencies nationwide were deployed in response to the recent rallies. Their presence was most prominent in Washington, D.C., where the crowds were particularly large, yet mostly peaceful. Some of these officials would not disclose their exact titles and home agencies, which created uneasiness among those attending.
“Without identification, there can be no accountability when something goes wrong, and there is no way for citizens to tell the difference between real and fake law enforcement,” Murphy said. “This is a turning point in America–we cannot tolerate an administration silencing or intimidating Americans calling out for basic human rights and social justice.”
Various journalists and observers posted online about some of their encounters. For example, on June 2, Mother Jones’ Dan Friedman reported on Twitter some officers would only identify themselves as with “the Department of Justice” or “the federal government.”
The New Republic’s Matt Ford tweeted on June 3 that when he asked officers if they were with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, since some of them had “Disturbance Control Team” (a division of BOP) written on their vests, they said “maybe.”
If the legislation is enacted, all federal law enforcement officers (including contractors) and members of the armed forces would be required to display identification information at all times when assisting with crowd control, riot control, and arrests and detainments of those engaged in civil disobedience. The identification must include their agency or service branch, last name, and badge number or rank.
“We don’t have secret police in this country,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. “Transparency is a building block of public trust and federal law enforcement officials who hid their identities were not serving the public's interest. To put it simply: you can't hold someone accountable if you don't know who they are.”
During a press conference on June 4, Attorney General William Barr defended the administration’s response to the protests. “In the federal system, we don’t wear badges with our name,” he said. “The agents don’t wear badges and their names and stuff like that, which many civilian police … agencies do.”
BOP Director Michael Carvajal said he wasn’t aware of BOP “personnel being taught not to identify themselves.” He attributed the lack of identification to the fact that “we normally operate within the confines of our institution, and we don’t need to identify ourselves.”
The bicameral bill is one of many recent efforts from Democrats and Republicans to reform law enforcement accountability and protocol.