President Joe Biden arrives at the White House from his trip to Asia. His executive order will bring reforms to federal law enforcement.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
President Biden will sign an executive order on Wednesday requiring new use-of-force rules for federal law enforcement and encouraging local police departments to make similar changes.
The measure is the product of months of consultations with police professional groups and reform activists. The executive order is the fallback position for the administration after Congress failed to agree last year on a package of reforms dubbed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
Senior administration officials say relatives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, will be present for the signing. Both Floyd and Taylor died during police action — Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody and Taylor during a fast-entry police raid of her home in Louisville, Ky.
The order does not apply to local police agencies
The executive order instructs federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and Customs and Border Protection, to revise their use-of-force policies. According to administration officials, the new federal minimum standard will allow force “only when no reasonably effective, safe and feasible alternative appears to exist.”
The measure is a response to public outcry in recent years over certain police tactics. It forbids federal agents from using choke holds and carotid artery restraints “unless deadly force is authorized,” after a neck hold by a New York police officer was blamed for the death of Eric Garner in 2014.
The order also limits federal officers’ use of “no-knock warrants,” and requires federal law enforcement agencies to document publicly when and why they use no-knock warrants, and any injuries that result.
The president can’t order local police agencies to follow suit, however. Instead, the executive order calls for incentives for changes by local departments, including the possibility that the new standards be a condition for some federal grants.
It will create a new database of officers fired for misconduct
The order also directs the Justice Department to create a new “national law enforcement accountability database,” which would keep track of substantiated misconduct claims and disciplinary records of officers. Federal law enforcement will be required to submit their officers’ records to the database, and to consult it when hiring new officers.
Local and state police agencies would be “able” to contribute to and consult the database.
Reformers say such a database could prevent officers who are fired for misconduct in one jurisdiction from finding new police jobs elsewhere. At least one study has found that such “wandering officers” are more likely to use excessive force.
A privately-run database already exists, containing the names of about 40 thousand officers who’ve lost certification for misconduct, but in the absence of a federal mandate, only about one third of police departments ever check it when hiring new officers.
Biden’s executive order also re-imposes Obama-era restrictions on federal transfers of military-grade equipment to local police, new national standards for police accreditation, and requires the use of body cameras by federal officers.