President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order that urges police departments to adopt stricter use-of-force policies amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, senior administration officials said Monday.
The order, which Trump will sign Tuesday, would set a priority of federal grants for law enforcement agencies that train officers using de-escalation tactics and curb the use of chokeholds. It would seek to track complaints over the use of force to discourage departments from hiring officers with records of violence and help police better deal with social problems, including mental illness and homelessness, the officials said.
“We need great people in our police departments and we have mostly great people,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier Monday. “But we will do better.”
The president said he would hold a news conference at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the order.
Officials said the directive asks Attorney General William Barr to help come up with national principles for police training and accreditation, and then submit them to the president to create specific guidance.
Departments would also be encouraged to allow “co-responders,” such as social workers, to accompany officers on non-violent response calls where homeless or mentally ill people are involved.
The measure stands in contrast to the president’s moves since taking office to arm police departments and grant them greater authority. He signed a pair of executive orders in 2017 designed to give police forces additional powers to fight crime and restore access to military surplus equipment, like armored vehicles and grenade launchers.
During a speech that year on Long Island to law enforcement officers, Trump urged them not to protect the heads of suspected gang members when placing them into patrol cars after an arrest.
“Please don’t be too nice,” the president said.
But the death in police custody of Floyd, an African-American Minneapolis man, and the waves of protests that followed have brought renewed scrutiny to the issues of racial injustice and police brutality. Trump has repeatedly called for “law and order” and bashed activists’ calls to defund police departments, but has also said police must take steps to prevent that violent killings like Floyd’s at the hands of officers.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and policy adviser Ja’Ron Smith last week met with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina on Capitol Hill to discuss his police-reform legislation.
Scott, the only black Republican in the upper chamber, is drafting a bill that would contain several issues also addressed in the order.
Senior administration officials said the federal government’s power is limited to overhaul state and local police department and that congressional action may be necessary to implement some of the policies.
But they also said there was little appetite for restoring stricter accountability measures for police departments, such as pattern-or-practice investigations and court-ordered agreements with the Justice Department known as “consent decrees” designed to stop civil rights abuses by local police.
Those agreements were used during the Obama administration but were curbed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018.
One official said that restoring the decrees could discourage police from going into high-crime areas and make officers afraid to do their jobs.
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