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Trump signs executive order on police reform

JILL COLVIN, LISA MASCARO and ZEKE MILLER
The Associated Press
President Donald Trump answers questions from reporters during an event on protecting seniors with diabetes in the Rose Garden White House, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on policing Tuesday that 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, while criticizing Democrats.

“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, has continued to emphasize his support for law enforcement, even after meeting in private Tuesday with families of victims. At the signing event, he railed against those who committed violence during the largely peaceful protests and made no mention of systemic racism.

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.

More:Pa. advances reforms to create confidential police disciplinary database

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.

Trump 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 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. 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., declared that Republicans are developing “a serious proposal to reform law enforcement.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee was to conduct a hearing Tuesday afternoon on “Police Use of Force and Community Relations,” drawing testimony from leading civil rights and law enforcement leaders.

“Now is the time to reimagine a more fair and just society in which all people are safe,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, was to tell senators, according to advance testimony obtained by The Associated Press.