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Top Democrats Introduce Law Enforcement Identification Act

U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) today led a delegation of U.S. Representatives including members from the national capital region introducing the Law Enforcement Identification Act. The legislation would require uniformed federal officers policing First Amendment assemblies to wear plainly visible identification noting the officer’s name and agency.

The bill was introduced in the House by Beyer, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA), and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC). Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Anthony Brown (D-MD), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA). It is the House companion to an identical Senate bill introduced this week by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

“It is unacceptable for federal officers policing constitutionally-protected peaceful protests in our nation’s capital to refuse to identify themselves,” said Rep. Beyer (D-VA). “We do not have secret police in the United States of America. The lack of identification left city authorities, protesters, and residents in the dark about who these armed officers in their community last week were, who gives them orders, and what their use of force guidelines are. It is very hard to hold unidentified officers accountable for their actions, a situation which makes abuses much more likely. Our legislation would immediately halt this practice and ensure better transparency from federal police.”

The bill was introduced in response to the presence of numerous unidentified federal officers policing protests in the District of Columbia at the request of the Trump Administration.

“What we saw last week should concern every American. While hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters across the country were exercising their First Amendment rights, President Trump sought to intimidate them by having unidentified and heavily armed federal law enforcement officers and Armed Services members act as a kind of new secret police. 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. That’s why we introduced the Law Enforcement Identification Act, requiring all federal law enforcement officers and Armed Services members engaged in crowd control to identify themselves and their agencies or military service. 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,” said Sen. Murphy (D-CT).

“Peaceful protestors across our nation’s capital have been met with unnecessary, excessive force by federal officers acting under President Trump’s command, but told not to identify who they are,” said Leader Schumer (D-NY). “This blatant obstruction directly reflects the injustices millions and millions of Americans are mobilizing against—no one should be allowed to act with impunity. The Law Enforcement Identification Act is critical in preventing those in power from escaping accountability for misconduct.”

Attorney General William Barr, who leads the Department of Justice (DOJ), which requested the presence of federal officers from numerous agencies during protests in Washington, indicated that he had no issue with officers who refused to identify themselves. DOJ previously criticized local law enforcement agencies for such actions in 2014, writing, “The failure to wear name plates conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity.”

“Recently, we’ve seen federal officers occupying the streets of the nation’s capital and of most cities, sometimes using force against peaceful protesters, without identification,” said Congresswoman Norton (D-DC). “Some have verbally refused to identify their police force, increasing confusion and panic and decreasing the likelihood errant officers could be held accountable. Our bill would require all federal officers in uniform to display proper identification. Federal police should lead on this issue, not be behind the officers of many states, including the District’s.”

“The role of our nation’s law enforcement is ‘to protect and serve.’ Communities across the country have been crying out for more accountability and transparency from law enforcement, not less” said Rep. Butterfield (D-NC). “Like many, I was deeply concerned to see scores of unidentifiable federal law enforcement officers deployed to our Nation’s Capital to police peaceful First Amendment assemblies. That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this commonsense legislation.”

Officers of D.C.’s police force, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), are bound by law to display badges and identifying information when policing First Amendment assemblies.

“Attorney General Barr deployed what can fairly be described as a secret paramilitary force against citizens protesting in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Raskin (D-MD). “This is a scandal. How can our constituents know whether individuals purporting to enforce the law are actually authorized to do so and by whom if they’re not wearing any identification? I’m proud to introduce LEIA with my colleagues because these officers should be required to wear a badge if they are given authority over citizens. We must not allow the anonymity of armed federal agents drawn from the depths of the bureaucracy to threaten public safety, police-civilian trust, and peace in our nation’s capital.”

“Federal law enforcement agencies are not the president’s private paramilitary and they do not exist to protect his fragile ego from the sight of peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Rep. Connolly (D-VA). “They serve the American people, and must always be accountable to Congress and the public. Such accountability is impossible when federal officers roam the streets with no identification or indication of agency affiliation. We are not an authoritarian state, no matter how badly President Trump wishes we were, and Congress cannot let such a dangerous abuse of power go unchecked.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised the issue of unidentified federal police in a letter to President Trump last week.

"We learned in the course of recent Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC that there were uniformed Federal officers who refused to identify themselves or the agency they worked for. That is unacceptable,” said Rep. Lieu (D-CA). “We don’t have secret police in this country. 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. I'm grateful to join my colleagues in introducing this common-sense bill to ensure that we know who is policing our streets."

“The Trump Administration’s militarized response to Americans peacefully protesting to express their pain, anger and desire for change was unacceptable and tilted toward authoritarianism. The presence of unidentified law enforcement officers on the streets of our nation’s capital exacerbated tensions, confusion and fear at a time when communities were calling out for unity, healing and transformation,” said Congressman Anthony Brown (D-MD). “This is an issue of public safety, civil rights and what it means to protect and serve the American people.”

"Deploying unidentified, heavily armed law enforcement officers to confront peaceful protestors outside of the White House last week was an irresponsible and dangerous action that led to the unnecessary escalation of an already tense situation," said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA). "The use of anonymous enforcers to quell civil unrest is a tactic of autocratic leaders, meant to obstruct any accountability or transparency. We must require all uniformed federal officers in these situations to display identification to protect our democracy and all Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Text of the Law Enforcement Identification Act is available here.

Sen. Chris Murphy introduced identical legislation in the Senate this week, cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Jack Reed (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Chris Van Hollen (MD).