What’s Inside Trump’s Executive Order on Police Reform

Part 1 of a three part series:

Earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at guiding police reforms following weeks of national unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd.

The order would create federal incentives through the Justice Department for local police departments that implement “independent credentialing” to certify that law enforcement is improving standards for the use of force and de-escalation training.

Trump noted that those standards would including banning the use of chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk.” Trump’s new order also incentivized local department to bring in experts in mental health, homelessness, and addiction as “co-responders” to “help officers manage these complex encounters”.

The order promotes better information sharing to track officers with “credible abuses” to prevent inter-departmental transfers. Trump specifies the Justice Department will create and update a new database tracking officers who have been terminated or decertified, have been criminally convicted for an on-duty conduct, or faced civil judgements for an improper use of force. Carefully noted in the order is the exception of “instances where a law enforcement officer resigns or retires while under active investigation related to the use of force”, emphasizing that the database would track only episodes in which an officer was “afforded a fair process”.

Critics of the order say these measures are not enough, pointing to a failure to address the issue of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine the advocates of reform say shields police from liability.  Furthermore, the vast majority of law enforcement decisions are made at  the state and local levels, while Trump’s order aims to incentivize local departments by expressing that only departments that adopt his reform measures may be able to receive Justice Department grants.

The ACLU most harshly criticized Trump’s bill, pointing to a lack of mention of “racism” in both his remarks and the executive order. The Brennan Center, a liberal think tank advocating for criminal justice reform, said the article seemed to make “only cosmetic changed when the nation is ready for law enforcement’s racism to be pulled out by its roots”. However, effective legislation must be written objectively, without aim of targeting any one group. To label the police force, including black officers, as “racist” in federal legislation would be a gross inaccuracy and would no doubt present a myriad of issues in implementing Trump’s proposed measures.

The Brennan Center notes that these are “welcome changes”, but notes that legislation in the House would be more comprehensive and effective. Senator John Cornyn said the executive order was “pretty good as far as it went”, but added that “there are limitations.”The president acknowledged that his order was only the beginning, announcing “beyond the steps we’re taking today, I am committed to working with Congress on additional measures” on police reform efforts.

Trump’s executive order comes at the same time as Senate Republicans, led by Tim Scott of South Carolina introduced a police reform proposal, blocked on June 24th by Senate Democrats. Despite continuous, sincere efforts by Scott to compromise and amend the bill, Democrats voted against it 55-45 with three members of the Democratic caucus voting to advance the bill. One such member, Senator Angus King, explained “voting against it will end the discussion of this subject in the Senate for the foreseeable future, and leave us with nothing to show for all energy and passion that has brought this issue to the forefront of public consciousness.”

Scott gave a passionate speech on the floor, explaining he would vote to support Democratic Amendments, and offered to allow votes on as many amendments as Democrats wanted. Not only did he provide ample room for compromise in the Senate, but Scott’s bill already included a number of Democratic proposals, including: making lynching a federal hate crime; creating a national policing commission to conduct a review of the U.S.’s Criminal Justice System; collective data on use of force by police; and barring the use of chokehold by federal officers.

Democrats in the House and Senate have been drafting separate police reform proposals, including banning chokeholds, limiting qualified immunity for police officers, and creating a National Police Misconduct Registry to increase accountability. Notably, the majority of proposed reform measures in the Democrats’ bill align with Trump’s goals; both proposals look to ban chokeholds and track police misconduct to increase accountability.

Part 2 to follow with additional details of Trump’s Executive Order, as well as results from the proposed House and Senate Bills.