Bernie Sanders' Police Reform Ideas During The Democratic Debate Were Notably Specific

During NBC's Democratic presidential primary debate on Sunday night, one of the biggest issues on the progressive left finally got a little oxygen ― moderator Lester Holt asked the candidates about Black Lives Matter and lethal use of force by law enforcement, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders gave some specific ideas on police reforms. It was a noteworthy moment, especially because of Sanders' longstanding, well-document struggles with minority voters ― he trails Clinton among non-white voters by wide margins.

The topic was first introduced by Holt, who pointed out that Black Lives Matter was the top trending political issue in South Carolina heading into the debate. But Sanders' proposal came in response to a question submitted via YouTube by video blogger Franchesca Ramsey, who asked about the conflicts of interest posed by local prosecutors handling cases of local police violence.

Sanders initially didn't hear the question, but when Holt read it back to him, he seemed as though he had his response ready: whenever somebody dies in police custody, Sanders believes the Justice Department should get involved. Here's what he said ― all credit to The Washington Post Team Fix running transcript of the debate.

Absolutely. 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.
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Sanders went on to call for one more general principle, and two more specific reforms, saying that police should be held accountable when they break the law, police departments should be demilitarized, and police departments should better represent the demographics of the communities they serve.

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.

And thirdly, we have got to de-militarize our police departments so they don't look like occupying armies. We've got to move toward community policing.

And fourthly, we have got to make our police departments look like the communities they serve in their diversity.

Sanders is far from the first person to suggest these kinds of ideas ― demilitarizing police departments and making departments better reflect their communities are both ideas that were already listed on his campaign's racial justice platform, in fact. But automatically triggering a federal Justice Department investigation when someone dies in police custody is a specific and clear idea, perhaps born from the case of Sandra Bland, which Sanders has repeatedly invoked on the campaign trail. Suffice to say, in an area that he sorely needed to make a declarative statement, he did. Although whether it's enough to put him over the top remains to be seen.