Biden Signs New Executive Order on Policing Reform

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President Biden has signed an executive order this week that will require new use-of-force rules for federal law enforcement. This order will also encourage local police departments to make the same changes to their existing policies.

The new measure is the result of months of consultations with police professional groups and dialogue with groups of activists who are seeking reform.

President Biden and his administration felt compelled to sign this executive order after Congress failed to come to an agreement last year on a package of reforms that were known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Several of Biden’s senior officials have indicated that relatives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were present for the signing of the executive order. George Floyd died while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police and Breonna Taylor was killed while police in Louisville, KY were doing a fast-entry police raid of her home.

The new order from Biden instructs federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Customs and Border Protection to change their existing use-of-force policies. The new federal minimum standard will allow force “only when no reasonably effective, safe and feasible alternative appears to exist.”

Biden’s action is a response to massive public outcry in the last few, especially over certain tactics used by police. This order prohibits officers from using chokeholds and carotid artery restraints with the exception being “unless deadly force is authorized.”

This prohibition is connected to a neck hold that a New York police officer used when he was blamed for the death of Eric Garner in 2014. The order from Biden also limits federal officers from using “no-knock warrants. Federal law enforcement agencies now must document publicly the reason why they use that kind of warrant and they must also document any injuries that result.

Biden can’t officially order local police agencies to do what is not mandated for federal agencies, but the order puts in place incentives for changes that are made by local departments.

Another element of this executive order is that the Justice Department was directed to create a new “national law enforcement accountability database.” This will keep a record of substantial misconduct claims along with the disciplinary records of officers. It will require federal officers to give their officers’ records to the database. The hope is that this database will prevent officers who are fired for misconduct in one jurisdiction from being employed with new police jobs in other jurisdictions.

Ironically, there is already a privately-run database that has approximately 40 thousand officers who have lost certification for misconduct. But without this federal mandate, only about one-third of police departments ever look at the database when making a hire.

The president’s executive order also puts back into place some Obama-era restrictions on federal transfers of military-grade equipment to local police departments. It will also put into place new national standards for police accreditation, and it will require the use of body cameras by federal officers.

President Biden had been challenging Congress to pass more comprehensive police reform legislation. But because they could not get bipartisan support, the White House took matters into its own hands.

“I know progress can be slow and frustrating, and there’s a concern that the reckoning on race inspired two years ago is beginning to fade. Today, we’re acting. We’re showing that speaking out matters, being engaged matters, and that the work of our time, healing the soul of this nation, is ongoing and unfinished and requires all of us never to give up. Always to keep the faith,” Biden said.