Trump signs police reform executive order that focuses on training, falls short of protesters’ demands

June 18, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 addressed the issue of police brutality by taking executive action that would provide incentives for police departments to increase training about the use of force and to strengthen a national database to track misconduct.

The president’s approach, which he announced at a Rose Garden event, seeks to leverage federal grant money to encourage local departments to take action around a set of national “best practices.”

The executive order falls short of the more sweeping policy changes activists have called for following the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

“Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “They are not mutually exclusive. They work together. That is why today I’m signing an executive order encouraging police departments nationwide to adopt the highest professional standards to serve their communities. These standards will be as high and as strong as there is on Earth.” The executive order states that the U.S. attorney general shall allocate discretionary grants “only to those state and local law enforcement agencies that have sought or are in the process of seeking appropriate credentials” from a federally certified body.

It also directs the attorney general to create a national database “concerning instances of excessive use of force related to law enforcement matters, accounting for applicable privacy and due process rights.”

And it calls for the federal government to support efforts to train police officers in handling encounters with those suffering from mental health issues, homelessness and addiction, including the development of “co-responder programs” that would help pair local police with mental health experts.

Trump’s executive order comes as the prospects for police reform legislation on Capitol Hill remain unsettled.

House Democrats are moving forward with a sweeping package that would ban police chokeholds, make it easier for victims of police violence to sue officers and departments and create a national database of police misconduct, among other measures. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to advance the bill on June 17, 2020, preparing it for a floor vote next week.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that the House legislation “is going nowhere in the Senate,” blasting the measure as “typical Democratic overreach.”

Republicans in the Senate are assembling a package of their own, one that may have some overlap with the Democratic proposal but will likely take a far less aggressive approach.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Trump defended the police beyond what he called the “tiny” numbers of bad officers and reiterated his desire for states to use the National Guard to disrupt protests if they turn violent or include looting.

“Americans want law and order; they demand law and order,” he said, rebuffing calls from some activists to defund the police.

The president devoted a large part of his remarks to attacking the record of his predecessor, former president Barack Obama, and former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic 2020 presidential nominee.

He also touted steps taken by his administration that he said have benefited minority communities, including supporting historically black colleges and universities, creating “opportunity zones” and lowering the unemployment rate before the novel coronavirus pandemic began its sweep across the U.S.

Democrats and civil rights groups responded to the news of Trump’s executive order by arguing that it is too little, too late.

Kristina Roth, senior program officer for criminal justice programs at Amnesty International USA, said the order “amounts to a bandaid for a bullet wound.” She noted that in the case of the death of Eric Garner six years ago, the chokehold used by the officer was already prohibited by the New York Police Department.