President Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday aimed at bolstering police accountability and vowed to continue efforts to revamp police departments nationwide, despite Senate Democrats bailing on negotiations over sweeping police reform legislation last fall.
The president’s order, which calls for national police accreditation and the creation of a national database to track major disciplinary actions against officers, marked the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“I promised the Floyd family, among others, that George’s name is not going to just be a hashtag,” the president said. “Your daddy’s name is going to be known for a long time.”
Mr. Biden said he was delivering on that promise by signing the order, and that he and Vice President Kamala Harris “will continue along with our friends in Congress to get meaningful police reform legislation on my desk as best we can, as quickly as we can beyond what we’re doing here.”
The new executive order, while only binding for federal law enforcement, is meant to further encourage state and local police departments to update training standards and place restrictions on certain tactics through Justice Department grants. It will also restrict the sale of certain military-style equipment to local departments.
A Minneapolis police officer’s killing of Floyd set off protests throughout the summer of 2020 and ushered in calls by congressional Democrats to pass legislation aimed at overhauling police standards at the federal level.
Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, introduced comprehensive police reform in June 2020 aimed at revamping federal statutes governing misconduct, bolstering efforts to collect data on misconduct, retooling training and banning certain practices such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
After months of negotiations with Republicans, Mr. Booker abandoned the effort.
Republican pushback was most pronounced over Democrats’ calls for sweeping changes to qualified immunity, which shields officers from lawsuits for their actions so long as they do not violate individuals’ constitutional rights.
“Last fall, Senate Republicans rejected the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” Ms. Harris said at the ceremony. “They walked away from their moral obligation to address what caused millions of Americans to march in the streets.”
The administration has instead focused on Justice Department initiatives to influence policing reforms at the local level through civil rights investigations and the administration of grants to local departments.
Ms. Harris said the executive order was “no substitute for legislation.”
“Nor does it accomplish everything we know must be done,” she said. “But it is a necessary and long overdue, critical step forward. And once again, the president and I call on the United States Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act.”
Civil rights leaders also urged Congress to pass the stalled legislation.
“While this action is welcome, we know that the movement to fight to transform policing continues so that people of color no longer fear police violence and misconduct,” Maya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “Congress must finish the work it started in the name of George Floyd.”
The push for sweeping racial justice makeovers of policing has also become a political liability for Democrats as crime rates have skyrocketed in cities nationwide.
After months of calls by some within the Democratic Party to defund the police, moderates complained that the message turns off voters.
Mr. Biden has taken a hit in polling over his handling of crime. And with the midterm elections quickly approaching, lawmakers are scrambling to shed their soft-on-crime label.
Members of Floyds attended the signing ceremony at the White House along with civil rights leaders, lawmakers and Cabinet officials.