What to expect from Trump's modest executive order on policing reforms

Activists and even some law enforcement officials are saying the order does not go far enough, not least by excluding a ban on chokeholds by officers

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Tuesday 16 June 2020 15:14 BST
Trump says police chokeholds sound 'so innocent and so perfect'

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Donald Trump is slated to sign an executive order on Tuesday aimed at both putting more police officers on the streets and paring back the number of black people killed by law enforcement.

"Nobody hates bad cops more than good cops," a senior Trump administration official told reporters.

As anti-police activists and some Democratic politicians push their "defund the police" narrative, the White House's executive order will seek to increase investments in police departments. The president and his team also will seek to push departments to institute use-of-force standard changes and other tactical reforms, while not losing support from police officers heading into November's election.

"We know that, in certain areas, the police have been disincentivized to stay in the car and not walk the beat, and that's made communities less safe," the senior official said. "And so what we want to do is thread the needle on having more cops, community police, but at the same time, build trust with the community. And that's what this reform effort is all focused on."

Mr Trump told reporters the goal of the order he will sign on what is shaping up as a picturesque late-spring day at the White House is "law and order". The senior official summarised the order by saying the crux is "to bring police closer together with the communities," adding: "We're not looking to defund the police. We're looking to invest more and incentivize best practices."

Here is what to expect when the president speaks from the Rose Garden around noon (ET).

'Standards are outdated'

Local law enforcement leaders have resisted federal standards on how their officers interact with the public, saying conditions on the ground in different cities warrant different thresholds for using force.

So the White House is being careful to avoid any move to try putting in place coast-to-coast guidelines. Expect the president to use language similar to that of the senior official on a call with reporters.

"We're looking to incentivize best practices. There are a lot of great standards for use of force throughout the country," the senior official said. "However, a lot of the police departments that have had problems are not using the most modern standard."

"Whether you look at Minneapolis or if you look at Ferguson or if you look at Baltimore, a lot of their training materials and standards are outdated, and this is something that we want to incentivize people to get certified on their practices and hopefully that will encourage better training and action."

But activists and even some law enforcement officials are saying it does not go far enough, not least by excluding a ban on chokeholds by officers.

'Keep bad cops out'

One of the toughest things for government entities at any level to do, for a list of reasons, is share information. Computer systems, being territorial, and other factors contribute.

For those who studied what happened in the months leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a lack of information sharing among law enforcement and security agencies was a major factor that allowed the attack to go forward.

The White House wants to help law enforcement agencies know more about the officers they are thinking of hiring.

The EO is written to try giving officials "the ability to track people who have excessive use of force complaints so that people can't leave one law enforcement department and then get hired at another," the senior official said.

"There should be a place for people to know about people's backgrounds so we can keep bad cops out," the official added. "And we want to make sure that we can track that and take action."

The order also will seek to help police departments deal with "mental health and homelessness and addiction."

"We want to be able to have co-responder programmes where we're going to incentivize. A lot of the work that police officers are doing today deals with medical issues and homelessness," the official said. "And we want to make sure that police officers can do policing and that they can implement best practices throughout the country to figure out how they can deal with a lot of the other issues that come up along the way."

Leveraging lawmakers

The White House has been clear that the president can only do so much via executive action, with officials saying even broader reforms would have to come with revisions to federal laws.

Only Congress can write or amend laws – with the president codifying them with his signature, of course. That means the ball on larger changes that many activists and protesters want would have to come from Capitol Hill, with the White House signing off, of course.

Expect Mr Trump to nudge – rather than demand – lawmakers to find common ground and strike a deal as protests continue across the country.

"The president is going to call on Congress to hopefully pass legislation that can make a difference," the senior official said. "Congress is going to need to look at it, and we'll call on them to work on different areas to see if they can both provide funding and legislation to put some of these programmes into place."

As Mr Trump rolls out his executive order, expect him and his team to sell it as a major election-year move that was informed by both law enforcement officials and families of those killed by police.

"The president wanted to act. He didn't want to have to wait on Congress to act on ... this issue, because bringing the community together now is extremely important, specifically for public safety," the official added. "We're speaking on behalf of many communities that want more law enforcement there to help protect them and keep them safe."

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