Trump's Policing Executive Order to Incentivize Reforms
Derek Chauvin, a white officer with the Minnesota Police Department, put his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a black man arrested for allegedly trying to buy a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit bill, for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Floyd is dead, Chauvin and three other officers involved in the arrest have been charged with murder or aiding and abetting it, and cities across the country have seen both peaceful protests by day and rioting by night. Now, three weeks later, President Trump is ready to sign an executive order on policing.
If that order is not a direct result of Floyd’s death, as sources inside the administration told reporters late Monday, the subsequent outcry certainly provided a catalyst to speed reform. Once signed Tuesday morning, the order will affect every officer nationwide, from county sheriffs to city cops.
The stated goal is simple: Bring police closer to the communities they serve. “We’re not looking to defund the police,” an official previewing the action explained. “We’re looking to invest more and incentivize best practices.”
And the catchword for this new Trump brand of policing is very much “incentive.”
The president will incentivize local police departments to work with independent certifying organizations to ensure they meet professional standards. The order incentivizes information sharing. It also incentivizes partnerships with mental health professionals in answering some police calls.
The administration had been working on this suite of reforms since the beginning of the year, a sequel to the criminal justice reform bill that Trump signed into law in late 2018. It was heralded as historic. The White House hopes for a similar result with election season quickly advancing, and that means threading the needle between what police need to do their job and what the public now demands of them. Key aspects include:
Certification and Credentialing
According to a summary obtained by RealClearPolitics, Attorney General William Barr will certify independent organizations that will credential police departments according to their adherence to professional standards.
These organizations will give passing or failing grades to departments after examining their policies on de-escalation training, early warning systems to identify personnel issues, and use-of-force standards. The use of chokeholds, including the one that killed Floyd, will not be outlawed. But the new certification program aims to enforce standards that comply with local, state, and federal law and limit their use.
Why would local police go to the trouble of obtaining this extra certification? Because a passing grade means the difference between more or less federal funding. According to the memo: “DOJ will strictly condition applicable DOJ discretionary grants for departments who have received or are seeking credentials.”
“You don’t necessarily have to demonize them or withdraw funds,” an administration official explained. “But if you create an equal system based off of best practices, there's going to be more so a race to create the best application to get access to the funding.”
After all, the official added, that’s how things normally work and the administration would rather prioritize funding mechanisms than “anything that would seem like we're trying to defund police.”
The executive order will create a national system administered by the attorney general that will capture and catalogue records of cases, once fully adjudicated, against officers guilty of excessive force. Again, grants to local and state police departments will be conditioned on their participation.
The Trump White House has rejected the suggestion that there is systemic racism in American police forces. It instead says there are bad apples, and argues that the order will keep bad apples from hopping into a different basket and spoiling a police department elsewhere.
Information sharing, the senior administration official explained, would give the federal government the “ability to track people who have excessive use-of-force complaints so that people can’t leave one law enforcement department and then get hired at another.”
“Nobody hates bad cops more than good cops,” the official added. “And we want to make sure that we can track that and take action.”
Mental Health, Homelessness and Addiction
The order will require the attorney general and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to identify programs offering resources to train officers on how best to interact with individuals who are impaired by mental health, homelessness, and addiction.
“A lot of the work that police officers are doing today deals with medical issues and homelessness,” the official explained. “We want to make sure that police officers can do policing and that they can implement best practices throughout the country to figure out how they can deal with a lot of the other issues that come up along the way.”
The executive order was developed with buy-in from both community leaders and police advocates, according to the White House. It also is not meant to be final. The administration anticipates working with Congress to sign more reforms into law.
But two things are non-starters. First, Trump will not entertain any effort to defund the police. Second, as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted and senior administration officials reiterated Monday, the president will not touch qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that shields police from lawsuits except in certain situations.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have introduced legislation that would ban that exemption, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi likened the use of chokeholds to lynching. That makes for a fraught political landscape as the White House tries to find a tenable solution to police brutality while juggling a pandemic and an economy officially in recession.
Much of the onus on actually implementing the reforms in the order fall to governors and mayors and other local leaders. It is on brand for an administration that regularly defaults to a federalist approach to governing. What was not expected was that Trump, who ran as a tough-on-crime Republican candidate, would back both criminal justice reform and policing reform.
As of press time, Trump was expected to deliver remarks and sign his executive order in the Rose Garden at noon.