Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Justice Department is updating its use of force policy for the first time in 18 years, explicitly stating that federal officers and agents must intervene if they see other officers using excessive force. The policy goes into effect July 19.
The new policy is outlined in a memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland sent to senior justice officials on Friday. The rules apply to all agencies under the Department of Justice, including the FBI, DEA, ATF and US Marshals Service.
Rules emphasize de-escalation and duty to intervene
“It is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life,” the policy begins. He later added: “Officers may only use force when no reasonably effective, safe and practicable alternative appears to exist and may only use the level of force that a reasonable officer at the scene would use in identical circumstances. or similar.”
The first part of the policy deals with lethal force, excluding tactics such as firing guns to disable cars. But the next section calls for de-escalation training, and the next two set out situations in which officers have an “affirmative duty” — to restrain or restrain other officers from using excessive force, and to render or seek assistance. medical if needed. .
Law enforcement officers should be able to recognize and act upon “the affirmative duty to intervene to restrain or prevent, as the case may be, any officer from using excessive force or other use of force that violates the Constitution, other federal laws, or Department policies on the reasonable use of force,” the policy states.
Police use of force scrutiny has increased due to high-profile killings
The DOJ policy was announced days before the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd – a police killing that sparked racial reckoning and calls for change in Minneapolis and across the country. But it should be noted that federal agents have not been implicated in the vast majority of recent high-profile cases in which people of color have died at the hands of local or state police.
Last month, for example, a Connecticut state trooper was charged with manslaughter for the 2020 murder of a black man.
Garland said the new rules are inspired by the 2020 National Consensus Use of Force Policy – a document that was created in response to public debate over the use of lethal force by police, after a series of controversial incidents in which officers killed civilians. It reflects the views of 11 law enforcement leaders and task forces led by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.
The attorney general said the new policy also stems from changes in how federal law enforcement agencies have approached their work since 2004, when it was last updated. It aims to standardize an agreed set of best practices, as over time individual agencies have updated their own use of force training programs.
Along the way, the Justice Department has also released incremental updates to its guidelines. Last fall, for example, it banned the use of chokeholds and carotid restraint maneuvers “unless deadly force is authorized.” It also limited the use of “no knock” warrants – a tactic that came under intense scrutiny in the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.