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Biden's executive order on police accountability imperfect, but it's better than inaction

  • President Joe Biden last week signed an executive order to improve accountability in policing.
  • The signing occurred on Wednesday, May 25, which was the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
  • The order brought together a coalition that included law enforcement and civil rights activists.

It is not perfect.

In fact, it is far from perfect.

It is, however, a solid start, and that is better than doing nothing at all.

After months of arduous negotiations, President Joe Biden last week signed an executive order to improve accountability in policing.

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The signing occurred on May 25, which was the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death. Signing the order on that date sent a powerful and symbolic message, especially since members of Floyd’s family were present for the ceremony.

The order, somewhat surprisingly, managed to knit together a coalition of law enforcement leaders, civil rights activists and families of people who had been killed by police.

Getting to that point was difficult. Those groups all have very different perspectives on the issue.

President Joe Biden speaks as Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd, sits in the chair after Biden signed an executive order in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Washington. The order comes on the second anniversary of George Floyd's death, and is focused on policing. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Talks looked on the verge of breaking down: In fact, it looked like the talks were on the verge of breaking down when an early draft of the order was leaked by a conservative news outlet. At that point, law enforcement groups believed the order was too harsh toward officers.

Susan Rice, the top domestic policy adviser at the White House, was able to use some shuttle diplomacy to get the talks back on track.

How Biden, cops and advocates forged deal on police and race

Biden signs policing order on anniversary of Floyd's death

For those who think that American policing needs to be overhauled — including the president — the final order doesn’t go far enough.

It doesn’t directly affect local departments, which obviously have the most interactions with the public, nor does it necessarily represent permanent change. If Republicans win the White House, the next administration could, and probably would, swiftly undo it. 

Still, it’s a start — possibly even a building block toward more expansive future legislation that has so far been elusive.

The executive order was necessary because it became obvious that the current Congress wasn’t going to do anything.

Finding the right balance was difficult: For the Biden administration, finding the right balance between civil rights groups and law enforcement groups was difficult.

Some give and take was necessary.

After the leak, some changes were made, but one sensitive part of the leaked draft didn't change. The final version still says the nation should “acknowledge the legacy of systemic racism in our criminal justice system.”

It is vital that fact is acknowledged.

As a counterbalance, and a concession to the law enforcement community, more language was added about “rising rates of violent crime” and how “reinforcing the partnership between law enforcement and communities is imperative for combating crime and achieving lasting public safety.”

A phrase about how deadly force should only be used as “a last resort when there is no reasonable alternative” was deleted. However, the order does require federal law enforcement officers to prioritize de-escalation and then intervention if they see another officer using excessive force. 

Those all seem like reasonable compromises.

As an executive order, the new policies are unfortunately limited to federal agencies. Administration officials, however, plan to attach strings to federal funding to persuade local police departments to adopt similar rules.

Not everyone was happy: Of course, not everyone was happy with the final version of the order.

In a statement, The Movement for Black Lives called the order “a poor excuse for the transformation of public safety that he promised." 

Still, several prominent civil rights groups are supporting the order.

Like any political document requiring compromise, Biden’s executive order on policing isn’t perfect, most especially the fact that it doesn’t apply to local departments.

Still, it’s better than doing nothing at all, especially since Congress seems to have abdicated its role on the issue.