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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 27, 2023

Following Tyre Nichols’ death, Biden reiterates call for police reform

After five Memphis, Tennessee, police officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, President Joe Biden renewed his call for law enforcement accountability.

The day before footage of Nichols' death was expected to be released, Biden said the vast majority of law enforcement officers "wear the badge honorably," but the nation must have more accountability when officers violate their oaths.

Biden did not mention his stalled campaign promise to create a national police commission, but he highlighted his other efforts, including a May 2022 executive order aimed at improving accountability for federal officers. Biden campaigned in 2020 at a time when many voters were calling for police reform following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer. 

Many questions remain about what happened when police pulled over Nichols on Jan. 7 on suspicion of reckless driving. After confrontations with police, Nichols was taken to the hospital and died three days later. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations is investigating the use of force. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Nichols' family, said that an independent autopsy showed that Nichols "suffered from extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating." Nichols and the five officers who have since been fired are Black. 

With Nichols' death again raising scrutiny around policing, we reviewed what Biden has achieved and failed to deliver on police reform since our last update in 2021.

Biden shelved his pledge to create a national commission on policing — the promise we are following on the Biden Promise Tracker. Instead, he shifted his approach to work with Congress on an expansive bill named for Floyd.

The House passed the bill in 2020 and 2021, but the Senate failed to agree on a few points, including chokeholds and qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits. 

Without legislation, Biden announced an executive order in May 2022 that bans the use of chokeholds unless deadly force is authorized, restricts no-knock warrants and requires body-worn cameras for federal law enforcement officers during arrests and searches. The order also calls for the creation of a database of police misconduct. A private database exists, but NPR found that only about one-third of police departments check it before hiring police officers.

The reach of Biden's order on policing is limited because it just applies to federal officers. There are about 700,000 to 800,000 police officers in the U.S., including roughly 100,000 federal officers. 

"Most of the officers citizens encounter on a regular basis are at the state and local and municipal level," said Jillian Snider, an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice,  retired New York City police officer and policy director for criminal justice and civil liberties at R Street Institute, a center-right think tank.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor, said significant changes must emerge on the local level among mayors, police chiefs and communities.

"We welcome the executive order, but people should not mistake the fact that an executive order is not a replacement for a full statute," Morial said. 

The George Floyd legislation directed the Justice Department to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies and require officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force. Morial said that accreditation could be tied to federal funding, in the same way that hospitals must be accredited to get Medicare funding. 

The ACLU called Biden's order a step in the right direction but wants the administration to push for stricter use of force standards at all levels of policing and use its grant-making authority to influence state and local police to align policies with federal standards.  

Where does this leave Biden's promise to form a national policing commission? We rated Biden's progress Stalled in 2021 when the George Floyd legislation entered into limbo. Biden has since taken a step toward his promise through his order on policing, but it only covers federal agencies, which represent a small fraction of law enforcement officers in the country. We will monitor Biden's progress to see what other steps he takes toward police reform, but for now we continue to rate this Stalled.

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about criminal justice

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RELATED: Biden Promise Tracker

Our Sources

White House, FACT SHEET: President Biden to Sign Historic Executive Order to Advance Effective, Accountable Policing and Strengthen Public Safety, May 25, 2022

White House, Statement from President Joe Biden on the Tyre Nichols Case, Jan. 26, 2023

NPR, Biden has a new executive order on policing, 2 years after George Floyd was killed, May 24, 2022

AP, Biden to sign policing order, May 25, 2022

Chief Cerelyn Davis, Statement Jan. 26, 2023

Memphis Police department, Statement, Jan. 8, 2023

Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, Tweet, Jan. 10, 2023

Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, TBI Use-Of-Force Case Leads To Indictments, Arrests, Jan. 26, 2023

CNN, What we know – and still don't know – about what led to Tyre Nichols' death, Jan. 27, 2023

New York Times, Tyre Nichols Live Updates: Memphis to Release 'Appalling' Police Video, Jan. 27, 2023

PolitiFact, One year after George Floyd's death, police reform talks linger, May 25, 2022

Telephone interview, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, Jan. 27, 2023

Telephone interview, Jillian Snider, adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and policy director for R Street's Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties team and retired New York City police officer, Jan. 27, 2023

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 13, 2021

Biden pauses promise to form police oversight commission

The White House put on hold President Joe Biden's campaign promise to form a national commission on policing and instead aims to advocate for the passage of a police accountability law.

Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, told Politico that the commission was on hold. The White House sent PolitiFact a statement by Rice:  

"The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and is working with Congress to swiftly enact meaningful police reform that brings profound, urgently needed change. Based on close, respectful consultation with partners in the civil rights community, the administration made the considered judgment that a police commission, at this time, would not be the most effective way to deliver on our top priority in this area, which is to sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law." 

 White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that the administration had been in close contact with civil rights activists, and law enforcement authorities about the most effective path forward.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, HR 7120, is described as legislation "to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies." The legislation passed the Democratic-led House in June and the latest version passed in March. The legislation has not reached a vote in the Senate.

The legislation was introduced after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck. Chauvin's trial on charges of murder and manslaughter is underway.

The legislation would also create a national registry to track police misconduct, require law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, require officers to use more body and dashboard cameras, and tie some federal grants to law enforcement agencies adopting anti-discrimination training and practices. 

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, told PolitiFact that he supports the White House's strategy to focus on passing legislation rather than forming another commission. There have been commissions in the past, including during the Obama administration, that suggested a number of ideas.

"A commission is when you are seeking solutions," Morial said. "There is a solution, this solution passed the House of Representatives twice. It incorporated recommendations made over the years by various committees, commissions. There has been plenty of process — now we need action."

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also said in a statement that it agrees with the White House's decision.

"This matter is much too urgent for delay, and Congress is by far the more appropriate venue to consider changes in law regarding police accountability," Henderson said.

In 2015, the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued 59 recommendations on various topics including use of force, data collection and training. Some members of the task force wrote in a New York Times op-ed in 2020 that "most American police agencies have not incorporated the task force's reforms."

Biden made the promise to form a national policing commission during a Sept. 3 campaign visit to Kenosha, Wis. On Aug. 23, a Kenosha police officer, who is white, fired seven shots at 29-year-old Jacob Blake from behind at close range. Blake, who was ignoring officer's commands as he got in a vehicle, survived but is paralyzed from the waist down. 

Violent protests ensued, prompting 17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse to travel to Kenosha and arm himself with an AR-15. Video footage shows Rittenhouse, who is white, shooting three people, killing two. He has been charged with homicide, claims self-defense and awaits trial. 

Back to Biden's promise: The White House has decided to put on pause Biden's promise to form a national commission on policing and focus instead on passing legislation. Key civil rights advocates agree with this strategy, but it does mean that Biden is putting on hold a campaign promise. We will track what happens to the legislation named after Floyd and any other steps Biden may take in the future, but for now we rate this promise Stalled.

RELATED: Biden made a lot of promises about race. Can he keep them?

RELATED: Biden Promise Tracker

Our Sources

Politico, Biden White House puts its police oversight commission on ice, April 11, 2021

White House, Press briefing, April 12, 2021, H.R.7120 - George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, House vote June 25, 2020, H.R.1280 - George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, House vote March 3, 2021

U.S. Department of Justice, Final Report of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, May 2015

PBS, Democrats' police reform bill faces opposition in the Senate — but that's only the first hurdle, March 5, 2021

New York Times op-ed, There Is a Playbook for Police Reform, June 4, 2020

PolitiFact, Top 10 Kenosha-related fact checks of 2020, Dec. 28, 2020

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with homicide. Here's what we learned about the Kenosha shootings from the charging documents. Aug. 27, 2020

Email interview, Andrew Bates, White House spokesperson, April 13, 2021

Telephone interview, Marc Morial, Urban League president and CEO, April 13, 2021

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Statement to PolitiFact, April 13, 2021

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