Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on policing Tuesday that he said would encourage better police practices and establish a database to keep track of officers with a history of excessive use-of-force complaints.
In Rose Garden remarks, Trump stressed the need for higher standards and commiserated with mourning families, even as he hailed the vast majority of officers as selfless public servants and held his law-and-order line.
“Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals,” he said before signing the order flanked by police.
Trump and the GOP have been rushing to respond to the mass demonstrations against police brutality and racial prejudice that have raged for weeks across the country in response to the deaths of Floyd and other black Americans. It’s a sudden shift for the Republican Party — and one Democrats are watching warily — that shows how quickly the protests have changed the political conversation and pressured Washington to act.
But Trump, who has faced criticism for failing to acknowledge systemic racial bias and has advocated for rougher police treatment of suspects in the past has continued to emphasize his support for law enforcement. At the signing event, he railed against those who committed violence during the largely peaceful protests and made no mention of racism, while lambasting Democrats in an election year.
Trump’s executive order would establish a database that tracks police officers with excessive use of force complaints in their records. And it would give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices and encourage co-responder programs, in which social workers join police when they respond to nonviolent calls involving mental health, addiction and homeless issues.
Trump said that, as part of the order, the use of chokeholds would be banned “except if an officer’s life is at risk.” However, senior administration officials said the order would instead promote certification bodies that train officers in de-escalation techniques and use-of-force standards that prohibit chokeholds “except in those situations where deadly force is allowed by law.” Chokeholds are already largely banned in police departments nationwide.
Democrats and other critics said Trump’s measure doesn’t go far enough.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it “falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality that is murdering hundreds of Black Americans.”
“During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change, not meekly surrender to the bare minimum,” she said.
Kristina Roth at Amnesty International USA said the order “amounts to a Band-Aid for a bullet wound” at a time when “this moment is calling for transformational change of policing.”
Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief who is seen as a potential vice-presidential running mate for Democrat Joe Biden, praised the executive order as “on the right track,” but she criticized Trump for failing to acknowledge racism in acts of police brutality and failing to engage the Justice Department in police reforms.
Trump, meanwhile, framed his plan as an alternative to the “defund the police” movement that has emerged from the protests and which he slammed as “radical and dangerous.”
“Americans know the truth: Without police there is chaos. Without law there is anarchy and without safety there is catastrophe,” he said.
Trump’s audience included police officials and members of Congress, and came after he met privately at the White House with the families of men and women who have been killed in interactions with police.
“To all of the hurting families, I want you to know that all Americans mourn by your side,” Trump said. “Your loved ones will not have died in vain.”
The Rose Garden announcement comes as Senate Republicans are preparing their own package of policing changes following a rollout by Democrats. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the sole African American Republican in the Senate, has been crafting the GOP legislative package, which will include new restrictions on police chokeholds and greater use of police body cameras, among other provisions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called the effort “a serious proposal to reform law enforcement.”
While the emerging GOP package isn’t as extensive as sweeping Democratic proposals, which are headed for a House vote next week, it includes perhaps the most far-reaching proposed changes to policing procedures from the party long aligned with Trump’s “law and order” approach.
“Now is the time to seek bold and broad-scale change,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Monday.
With the political debate fluid, it is unclear whether the parties will be able to find common ground. The proposals emerging from Democrats and Republicans share many similar provisions but take different approaches on some issues. Neither bill goes as far as some activists want in their push to “defund the police” by fully revamping departments.
Central to the Republican package would be the creation of the national database to improve transparency so officers cannot transfer from one department to another without public oversight of their records. The Democrats have a similar provision.
Yet the Republican bill does not go as far as the Democrats do on the issue of eliminating qualified immunity, which would allow those injured by law enforcement personnel to sue for damages. The White House has said that is a step too far. As an alternative, Scott has suggested a “decertification” process for officers involved in misconduct.
One large police union, the influential Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement it is working with Congress and the White House on the proposals, having provided “feedback” on the Democratic bill and “substantial input” on the emerging GOP package.