WASHINGTON – With Congress deadlocked over how to address racism and excessive use of force, President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order on policing Wednesday, the second anniversary of George Floyd's death.
The decision reflects Biden's struggle to use the limited powers of his office to advance his campaign promises, as well as his attempt to strike a balance between police and civil rights groups at a time when rising concerns about crime are eclipsing calls for reform.
Most of the order is focused on federal law enforcement agencies — for example, requiring them to review and revise policies on use of force. It would also create a database to help track officer misconduct, according to the White House.
Although the administration cannot require local police departments to participate in the database, which is intended to prevent problem officers from hopping from job to job, officials are looking for ways to use federal funding to encourage their cooperation.
In addition, the order would restrict the flow of surplus military equipment to local police.
The public announcement is scheduled for the first day after Biden's return from his first trip to Asia as president.
Rev. Al Sharpton described Biden's order as “an important step” that showed the president “took the initiative” when Congress failed to act, but he said activists would “never give up” on pushing for legislation.
“George Floyd woke us up, and we should not go back to sleep,” Sharpton said in a statement.
Biden is expected to appear alongside relatives of Floyd, whose killing by Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests two years ago.
It was the largest series of demonstrations in American history, occurring in the midst of coronavirus lockdowns and President Donald Trump's divisive reelection campaign.
However, transforming the initial outcry into political change has proven difficult.
When four officers were convicted last year for killing Floyd, Biden urged Congress to pass legislation to reform police by the anniversary of his death.
The guilty verdict was “not enough,” he said, and “we can’t stop here."
However, no legislation was passed, and bipartisan talks dragged on, and later broke down.
The White House eventually decided to move forward with executive actions rather than wait for Congress.
In September, the Justice Department curtailed federal agents’ use of no-knock warrants — which allow law enforcement agents to enter a home without announcing their presence — and updated its policy to prohibit agents from using chokeholds in most circumstances.
But extending such rules to local police is more challenging, and White House officials have spent months in negotiations with civil rights groups and police organizations.
The resulting set of policies is less extensive than originally sought, not to mention delayed by a year.
“We know full well that an executive order cannot address America’s policing crisis the same way Congress has the ability to, but we’ve got to do everything we can,” said a statement from NAACP President Derrick Johnson.
The order goes beyond issues involving misconduct and use of force. It would also assess the impact of facial recognition software on civil liberties, look for ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in federal correctional facilities and suggest better ways to collect data on police practices.
The research could eventually lay the groundwork for more changes within American law enforcement in the future.