WASHINGTON — Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at encouraging better police practices and establishing a database to keep track of officers with a history of excessive use of force.
Tuesday’s Rose Garden announcement comes as Senate Republicans are preparing their own package of policing changes. Democrats have a package as well.
The GOP is rushing to respond to mass demonstrations over the deaths of Floyd and other black Americans killed by police. It’s a sudden shift for the Republican Party — and one Democrats are watching warily — that shows just how quickly the mass protests over police actions and racial prejudice that have swept through the country have changed the political conversation.
Trump’s executive order establishes a database that tracks police officers who garner complaints about excessive use of force in their records, according to two senior administration officials who briefed reporters ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.
It would also establish a national credentialing system that would give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices.
It is being framed, in part, as a response to some activists’ calls to “defund the police,” a sentiment Trump and the White House have soundly rejected, arguing more resources are needed, not less.
Meanwhile, 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.
The nationwide outcry “is anything but a reaction to one isolated incident or the misconduct of a few ‘bad apples,’” Gupta says. “The outcry is a response to the other horrific killings of black people by police.”
While the emerging GOP package isn’t as extensive as sweeping Democratic proposals, which are headed for a House vote next week, it includes perhaps the most far-reaching proposed changes to policing procedures from the party long aligned with a “law and order” approach.
Scott, who said he spoke with Trump about the legislation over the weekend, warned Monday that delaying voting until later this summer would be a “bad decision.”
The weekend shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by a white officer in Atlanta led to a renewed public outcry, more street protests and the police chief’s resignation.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York is among those urging Republicans not to settle for minor changes.
“Now is the time to seek bold and broad-scale change,” Schumer said Monday.
With the political debate fluid, it is unclear whether the parties will be able to find common ground. The proposals emerging from Democrats and Republicans share many similar provisions but take different approaches to address some of the issues. Neither bill goes as far as some activists want in their push to “defund the police” by fully revamping departments.
Central to the Republican package would be the creation of the national database to improve transparency so officers cannot transfer from one department to another without public oversight of their records. The Democrats have a similar provision.
Yet the Republican bill does not go as far as the Democrats do on the issue of eliminating “qualified immunity,” which would enable those injured by law enforcement personnel to sue for damages. The White House has said that is a step too far. As an alternative, Scott has suggested a “decertification” process for officers involved in misconduct.
One large police union, the influential Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement it is working with Congress and the White House on the proposals, having provided “feedback” on the Democratic bill and “substantial input” on the emerging GOP package.