A five-page draft document reviewed by The Washington Post broadly defines how the Trump administration intends to apply an executive order signed by the president on safe policing. Justice Department officials are expected to announce the new initiative in coming days. A spokeswoman for the department did not immediately comment.
The draft document says the effort aims to “improve policies and procedures — ensuring transparent, safe, and accountable delivery of services to our communities.” To that end, it says the attorney general will oversee a push toward standards that police departments will have to meet to receive discretionary federal grant money.
Jon Adler, former director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance and a career law enforcement officer, said many of the recommendations were included in a 2016 document from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Adler said the guidance wisely pushes police to intervene when they see fellow officers using excessive force, but that it falls short by failing to require training that would be needed to reach its stated goals.
He also said the new guidelines fail to address law enforcement responses to people with mental illnesses or other disorders, a key focus of those advocating police reform amid the nation’s broader reckoning with racial injustice.
“Ultimately, human beings police, while policies and procedure collect dust,” Adler said. “Discretionary grant funds should be available to those departments that present a plan for complying with national standards. Otherwise, it’s like telling a runner you have to run a marathon first, then you’ll be eligible for oxygen if you finish the race.”
The standards spelled out by the Justice Department are broad and in many cases simply require police departments to have a policy on complex issues such as choke holds, no-knock warrants and firing warning shots.
Choke holds should be prohibited “except in situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law,” the document says.
Police departments, the document says, “should maintain use of force policies and procedures that address when force against individuals who fail to comply with lawful commands should terminate,” including that the employment of force should end “when it is objectively reasonable that a subject is fully in law enforcement’s control.”
The death of George Floyd in May, when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for about eight minutes, has sparked nationwide protests about law enforcement conduct, particularly toward minorities. Other cases, such as the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, by police officers with a no-knock warrant have added to the often bitter arguments about accountability for law enforcement.
The Justice Department plan would put oversight of the effort in the hands of the attorney general. Currently, that job is held by William P. Barr, who has criticized officers involved in the Floyd case but said there has been far too much criticism of police, and blamed the media for what he called slanted coverage.
It’s unclear how far the Trump administration may get on the initiative. The president is facing a tough race for reelection, and the first deadline mentioned in the draft document is Jan. 31.