Police-Reform Executive Order Gets Trump’s Signature

Law enforcement officials applaud Tuesday in the Rose Garden of the White House after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on police reform. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that seeks to incentivize police reforms on use-of-force policies and other issues.

“We will have reform without undermining our many great and extremely talented law enforcement officers,” Trump said this morning in the Rose Garden.

The announcement comes as part of a broader discussion in Washington over how the federal government should respond to calls for police reform in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans in police custody.

While some advocates have called for fundamental changes to how police departments look and operate, the measures being debated in Washington have been more modest. House Democrats have put forward a reform package that would create a nationwide database to track complaints against officers, change legal standards for misconduct and end qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields officers from civil lawsuits over misconduct.

The executive order Trump signed Tuesday is more limited than the Democrats’ proposal. It uses federal grants to incentivize police departments to undertake a series of reforms, including adopting updated use of force and de-escalation standards, participating in a national police misconduct database and putting together teams of social workers to respond to nonviolent incidents.

Departments would receive independent accreditation on adopting the updated use of force standards, which would include changes such as banning chokeholds unless an officer’s life is in danger, Trump said.

Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, acknowledged Trump is limited in what he can do without Congress in the area of police reform, but said the order unveiled Tuesday falls short of what advocates are calling for.

He said while grant money can be a useful tool in incentivizing reforms, federal laws will likely need to change in order for enough money to be at stake to alter practices on a larger scale.

“I think it’s a lever, and it’s an important lever, but it’s not enough that I think it would change practices overnight,” Grawert said in an interview.

The co-response teams of social workers are intended to respond to incidents involving mental health, drug addiction and homelessness.

Grawert said co-response teams are an intriguing idea that could be a reform that earns broad support, including from progressives.

“I think a lot of people, including some law enforcement officers, can get on board with the idea that police are too often called to do things they shouldn’t do, like respond to mental health crises,” Grawert said.

Trump said, even with Tuesday’s executive order, he still plans to work with Congress on reform legislation, specifically touting a yet-unreleased bill being authored by Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s order “modest,” and called on Congress and the White House to hammer out more robust reforms.

“Unfortunately, this executive order will not deliver the comprehensive meaningful change and accountability in our nation’s police departments that Americans are demanding,” the New York Democrat said in a statement. “Congress needs to quickly pass strong and bold legislation with provisions that makes it easier to hold police officers accountable for abuses and President Trump must commit to signing it into law.”

The White House has said any bill that makes changes to the qualified immunity doctrine will not get Trump’s signature.

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