President Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland updated the Justice Department’s use-of-force policy, which includes requiring federal agents to “intervene” if they witness any officer using “excessive force.”
The updated policy – which was first shared with department personnel on Friday but not made public until Monday – states that agents have the “affirmative duty to intervene.”
“Officers will be trained in, and must recognize and act upon, the affirmative duty to intervene to prevent or stop, as appropriate, any officer from engaging in excessive force or any other use of force that violates the Constitution, other federal laws, or Department policies on the reasonable use of force,” the policy states.
The update comes just days before the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, who was murdered while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department in May 2020. The incident sparked anti-police riots and the “defund the police” movement demonstrations across the United States.
“It is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life. Officers may use only the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively gain control of an incident, while protecting the safety of the officer and others, in keeping with the standards set forth in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989),” Garland said in a statement. “Officers may use force only when no reasonably effective, safe, and feasible alternative appears to exist and may use only the level of force that a reasonable officer on the scene would use under the same or similar circumstances.”
Those working under the direction of the Justice Department will be required to follow the new rules, including officers and agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Last year, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 — a sweeping overhaul of laws governing police action, including banning chokeholds and reforming qualified immunity for officers.
If the bill becomes law, officers accused of misconduct will no longer be able to claim as a legal defense that they were acting in good faith or believed their actions were lawful. The Fraternal Order of Police said it is strongly opposed to changes to qualified immunity and “without debate or discussion, these issues cannot be resolved.”
The legislation would also create a national task force within the Department of Justice, to provide oversight of policing nationwide.