President Biden plans to sign an executive order Wednesday to bolster police accountability, sending a signal to Black voters and racial justice activists that Democrats haven’t given up on reforms, even if they can’t pass a bill in Congress.
The White House’s unveiling of the order, which calls for national police accreditation standards and the creation of a national database to track major disciplinary actions against officers, falls on the eve of the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
“The murder of George Floyd exposed for many, what Black and Brown communities have long known and experienced: that we must do more to ensure that our nation lives up to its founding promise of fair and impartial justice for everyone under the law,” a senior administration said in a conference call with reporters.
He said the order will make “a concrete and major impact not just for Black and Brown communities, but indeed for all Americans, including for law enforcement.”
A Minneapolis police officer’s killing of Floyd set off protests throughout the summer of 2020 and ushered in calls by congressional Democrats to pass legislation aimed at overhauling police standards at the federal level.
Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, introduced comprehensive police reform in June 2020 aimed at revamping federal statutes governing misconduct, bolstering efforts to collect data surrounding misconduct, retooling training and banning certain practices such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
After months of negotiations with Republicans, Mr. Booker threw in the towel.
Republican pushback was most pronounced over Democrats’ calls for sweeping changes to qualified immunity, which shields officers from lawsuits for their actions so long as they do not violate individuals’ constitutional rights.
Still, calls for police reform have persisted since the deal fizzled, and Mr. Biden’s ability to affect any change has been stymied by a lack of federal legislation.
The administration has instead focused on Justice Department initiatives to influence policing reforms at the local level through civil rights investigations and the administration of grants to local departments.
The new executive order, while only binding for federal law enforcement, is meant to further encourage state and local police departments to update their training standards and place restrictions on certain tactics through the administration of Justice Department grants. It will also restrict the sale of certain military-style equipment to local departments.
The push for sweeping racial justice makeovers of policing has also become a political liability for Democrats as crime rates have skyrocketed in cities nationwide.
After months of calls by some within the Democratic Party to defund the police, moderates complained that the message turns off voters.
Mr. Biden has taken a hit in polling over his handling of crime. And with the midterm elections quickly approaching, lawmakers are scrambling to shed their soft-on-crime label.
In February, Mr. Biden took a firm stance against the defund-the-police movement during his visit to New York City. At the time, the city was reeling from the recent loss of two officers shot while responding to a domestic violence call.
“The answer is not to abandon our streets, the answer is to come together,” Mr. Biden told officers gathered at New York City Police headquarters. “The answer is not to defund the police, it’s to give you the tools and training and funding.”