Recently, President Joe Biden signed an executive order meant, among other things, to restrict some of the more controversial tactics used by police. The order only applies federal law enforcement, but it could be used as a model for states to provide better guidelines for police officers.
This is arguably the most substantial police reform in years – certainly since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020. It is certainly a good start towards reforms that are desperately needed if we are to prevent further deaths of innocent people and other miscarriages of justice.
Here are a few of the key reforms:
Limiting use of force: Federal law enforcement is now limited to using force only when “no reasonably effective, safe and feasible alternative appears to exist.” Officers will also be required to de-escalate and will have a duty to stop other officers from using excessive force.
Sharply limiting no-knock entries: These are when law enforcement breaks into a home without knocking first. No-knock entries are generally unfair and have resulted in multiple deaths of innocent people. In the past, officers have been allowed to use this tactic to prevent the loss of evidence, but now they will need reasonable grounds to believe that knocking and announcing their presence would create an imminent threat of physical violence.
Reducing police militarization: This expands on an Obama-era restriction. Federal agencies are now prohibited from transferring certain types of military equipment to local, state and tribal law enforcement.
Banning chokeholds and carotid restraints: These could only be used when deadly force is authorized.
Adding alternatives for crisis responders: This will provide guidance for local, state and tribal officials as they implement alternative first-response models. For example, some local 911 responders are now sending unarmed officers or community crisis workers to calls involving a mental or behavioral health crisis.
Police agency credentialing: Local, state and tribal law enforcement can be credentialed by independent entities, which will allow them to access federal discretionary grants.
Increasing data collection: Federal law enforcement agencies will now report instances of police misconduct or use of force to a national database. Local, state and tribal authorities will receive guidance on contributing similar data to the database.
The executive order doesn’t end there. It is also intended to improve overall training and the process of investigating allegations of civil rights abuses. It aims to create timely and consistent discipline across federal law enforcement agencies, strengthen recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention among officers, and share federal best practices with local, state and tribal authorities.
These are positive steps toward making federal law enforcement safer and more protective of people’s rights. There are still further steps that need to be taken.