Energy & Environment

Haaland creates task force on Interior law enforcement after incidents draw scrutiny

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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is creating a task force aimed at increasing trust in the Interior Department’s law enforcement agencies following incidents involving the National Park Service (NPS) law enforcement that have come under public scrutiny. 

In a new memo issued Wednesday, Haaland said she would create a task force seeking to improve law enforcement programs through the NPS, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

Specifically, the task force will focus on strengthening trust in law enforcement programs, making sure appropriate policies and oversight are implemented and making sure resources are available for officer mental health, wellness and safety. 

“Interior’s law enforcement programs and officers play a crucial role in protecting our nation’s most cherished resources and the members of the public who visit them. I am confident that this Department-wide approach will identify meaningful paths to assist law enforcement and communities in strengthening trust and collaboration, while ushering the nation into the next phase of community-focused law enforcement,” Haaland said in a statement. 

The group will be led by the department’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security as well as a representative from each bureau and experts from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights and the Office of Human Capital.

Haaland’s memo references a controversial incident in which U.S. Park Police and other law enforcement officers cleared Black Lives Matter protesters from the Lafayette Square area in front of the White House last year. 

She said that her response to a report from the department’s inspector general on the Lafayette Square incident recognized the “crucial role” played by the department’s law enforcement officers. 

“To support them and fulfill our mission, we must ensure that the Department implements the highest standards for protecting the public and provides necessary policy guidance, resources, and training,” she said. 

The watchdog report found last month that in last year’s incident officers didn’t fully warn the crowd to disperse and said that fractured radio communications led officers to use chemical irritants that had not been authorized.

This was one of a few high-profile incidents in which department law enforcement conduct has faced scrutiny. 

Two Park Police officers were recently charged with involuntary manslaughter in a 2017 fatal shooting. In addition, a viral video last year appeared to show a park ranger using a stun gun on a man, though the NPS later determined that he acted in a manner “consistent with agency policy and appropriate given the totality of the circumstances.”

The new task force is not the Biden administration’s first action on departmental law enforcement. It announced in February that it would roll out the use of body cameras by Park Police officers. 

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