Biden signs policing executive order to mark George Floyd murder anniversary

Biden vows to continue working with Congress to pass ’meaningful police reform legislation’

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Wednesday 25 May 2022 23:33
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Voices for Change: 2 years since George Floyd was murdered

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing federal law enforcement agencies to revise policies for use of force and create a national registry to track law enforcement officers who are sacked for misconduct.

Mr Biden signed the order surrounded by Democratic members of Congress, law enforcement officials, and family members of people killed by police, including George Floyd, the Minneapolis, Minnesota man whose May 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a wave of protests across the United States.

Mr Biden praised the family members for “summon[ing] the courage to find purpose through your pain” and said the order he signed is “a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation” to address what he described as the “profound fear and trauma, and exhaustion” felt by Black Americans “for generations”.

He also noted that the House had passed a “strong bill “ on police reform — the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — but Senate Republicans had “opposed any meaningful reform”.

The president said the order he signed was “grounded in the key elements” of that stalled legislation and reflects input from “a broad coalition”. He also called it “the most significant police reform in decades” and said it would apply to all federal law enforcement agents across the US.

He also vowed to continue working with Congress to pass “meaningful police reform legislation” and get it to his desk “as quickly as we can,” but said the order he signed today was part of “showing the America we know ... because the vast majority of us are good people”.

The White House said the order “mandates measures for all Federal law enforcement agencies, leveraging the President’s direct authority over the executive branch” and “requires the use of federal tools such as guidance on best practices, training and technical assistance, and grantmaking to support reforms at State, Tribal, local, and territorial law enforcement agencies that will strengthen public trust and improve public safety across the nation”.

In addition to the use-of-force guideline changes and misconduct registry, the order Mr Biden will sign provides for issuing guidance to police agencies regarding how to screen for inherent bias among police officers, including white supremacist views.

The official added that the order would provide for more collection of data on use-of-force incidents, and would “enhance public trust by promoting accountability, transparency, and the principles of equality and dignity in policing and the larger criminal justice system”.

Mr Biden’s order will also place limits on a Defence Department program known as 1033, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military equipment, and encourage limits on the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants by officers with state and local police departments that receive federal funding.

The 1033 program has long been criticised by activists and scholars who say the easy availability of war-fighting kit has contributed to a warrior mentality among police officers and made them more likely to use excessive force.

The Biden administration’s decision to use executive action to force some level of reform in law enforcement practices comes after months of negotiations between White House officials in charge of drafting the order and the law enforcement officials it would affect.

A previous version of the order which became public five months ago drew cries of foul from police groups, who complained about being left out of the drafting process.

The attempt to use executive action to bring about some measure of police reform also follows the failure of House and Senate negotiators to move Democrats’ major police reform bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, through Congress, after Senate Republicans objected to a provision that would have made it easier to sue police officers who violate Americans’ civil rights.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum think tank, told the New YorkTimes the version set to be signed by Mr Biden is “substantially different” from the draft which leaked in January, and said the differences between the two versions has “have a big difference to many of us in law enforcement”.

Additional reporting by agencies

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