National Security

DOJ orders its officers to intervene to prevent excessive use of force

The Department of Justice is ordering its federal officers to take on a greater role in fighting police brutality, ordering them to intervene if they see colleagues using excessive force.

The order comes in the Justice Department’s first update to its use-of-force policy in 18 years. 

The memo, signed Friday but not publicly released until Monday, comes just days before the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, whose death as he was pinned down by a now-former Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests.

The memo outlines the duty of officers both to prevent excessive force and to administer medical aid to those injured by police.

“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote in the memo.

The policy applies to officers of the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshal Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The new policy bars use of deadly force on a subject who is fleeing and also prohibits shooting into a moving vehicle solely to disable it. It also bars deadly force on those seen as a threat only to themselves.

“It is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life,” Garland wrote.

“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.”

The memo outlines a number of subjects on which officers must now be trained, from de-escalation techniques, “alternative methods and tactics for handling resisting subjects” and intervention techniques to use with colleagues.

The new policy takes effect in 60 days.  

The memo only applies to federal officers and not municipal police officers, who often have more substantial interactions with the public.

The Justice Department has, however, kicked off several use-of-force investigations into local police departments under the Biden administration, including the Minneapolis Police Department.

The agency likewise has announced a similar review in Louisville, Ky., following the police killing of Breonna Taylor, as well as in Phoenix.

In each case, the Justice Department determined there was a pattern or practice of widespread excessive use of force. 

Tags Department of Justice DOJ federal officers George Floyd Merrick Garland police brutality police use of force use of force

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