Inside a near breakdown between the White House and the police

WASHINGTON — Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser, last month called leaders of the nation’s largest police groups to pro...

WASHINGTON — Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser, last month called leaders of the nation’s largest police groups to promise a meaningful reset of their relationship as the Biden administration completes an executive order on the police reform, a move that averted a potential breach that had been simmering for months, according to multiple people briefed on the appeals.

The groups hailed Ms. Rice’s outreach, which amounted to a vow to incorporate more of their thinking into the order and perhaps an implied mea culpa. The White House had solicited input from the groups, but had not engaged with them on substance and detail; their frustrations only skyrocketed in the days leading up to his phone calls, when they were caught off guard by the leak of an 18-page draft executive order containing language they found objectionable.

Ms. Rice’s course correction dovetails with a broader shift in the White House toward a more centrist stance on policing as violent crime is on the rise. And it underscores President Biden’s struggle to satisfy civil rights groups, whose calls for reform came to a head after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by police, while blunting critics who say that Democrats are soft on crime.

That more centrist view will likely be on display when Mr. Biden meets newly elected New York Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday, a former police captain whose rise illustrates how far Democrats have moved to the center on justice issues. criminal justice, just two years after progressives began calling to defund the police.

In an interview, Ms. Rice sought to bridge that gap, saying that Mr. Biden’s acknowledgment that responsible and respectful policing is essential for effective public safety has not undermined his longstanding support for the forces of the United States. order.

“Yes, we need police on the streets, well equipped, but we need them to have the cooperation and trust of the community. These things are not in opposition – they are mutually reinforcing,” Rice said.

She also noted that the draft decree was not close to being completed and that many questions remained unanswered.

A sticking point is a directive that could cause federal officers, and most likely state and local police, to tighten their use-of-force standard, which regulates when officers can shoot. Civil liberties groups welcomed the change, but police chiefs said they couldn’t stand it.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which advises departments on best practices, said he has seen “significant breakthroughs” in communications with the White House in recent weeks.

“We are not opposed to reforms,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the executive order balanced the need for police reform with the changing nature of crime and policing across the country.”

The roots of the order began with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and subsequent calls for reforms to address issues such as racism in the police and the use of lethal force.

As it became clear in September that a bill known as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act fail to pass the Senate, the White House began to take a closer look at resolving some of the issues through an executive order. Ms. Rice and her team led its development.

In late summer, according to people familiar with the process, the White House began holding conference calls with groups it had spoken with about the Floyd legislation, including heads of police groups — many of whom approved some, but not all, aspects of the bill. – as well as civil rights groups and representatives of the families of those killed by the police.

Those early calls included two listening sessions with law enforcement groups in late October: one with Terrence M. Cunningham, the deputy executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police and a longtime friend of Mr. Biden; and another with a larger group of like-minded organizations, an official said.

The White House held about 20 meetings with various law enforcement groups from August through December, according to an official. But police chiefs told members of Congress and senior law enforcement officials that the engagement seemed superficial.

Ms Rice disputed that view, describing the meetings as part of a planned listening phase and said officials intended to engage more deeply on the draft text later.

Several advocates said White House meetings with civil rights groups last year were also “listening” style meetings.

As the draft process unfolded, officials said, the White House was separately warned that it needed to engage more with police chiefs to gain their support for the final order. Among those advocating for the cause were two Democratic senators — Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey, who had both worked on the George Floyd bill — as well as Alejandro N. Mayorkas , the Secretary of Homeland Security, and No. 2 and 3 Justice Department officials, Lisa O. Monaco and Vanita Gupta.

At a meeting in early November, for example, Mr. Durbin and Mr. Booker said their districts were struggling with increasing crime and that it would be a practical and political problem to disagree with the police, according to reports. knowledgeable people about it. Encounter.

But the White House did not change its approach, and in late December it circulated a draft of its executive order to other executive branch agencies for comment. Blurred images of this draft have leaked, and a copy was published on January 5 by The Federalista conservative site.

Enraged law enforcement groups did not particularly like the tenor of the order’s policy preamble, which spoke of “systemic racism” in the criminal justice system.

Mr. Pasco said he told the Justice Department and the White House that the release of this version of the order “would cause an irreparable rift between Biden and the police.” Another group leader told the administration the headline would be “Biden turns his back on the police.”

This set off alarms. Mr. Biden has been mindful of his relationship with the police, particularly from the major police unions he previously worked with with President-endorsed Donald J. Trump in the 2020 election.

Some officials said they understood the project was almost ready for release when it was leaked. But White House officials countered that impression. Dana A. Remus, the White House attorney, called it a “very pre-draft” that wasn’t close to being ready.

Either way, its publication prompted Ms. Rice to make conciliatory phone calls for more substantive discussions.

Since then, Ms Rice said law enforcement, civil rights groups and others have been sharing their reactions and that officials are “trying to respond to what we have heard”.

Pasco said the leaked order had provisions everyone could agree on, such as standardizing and improving credentials for police departments; create a national registry of police officers who have been terminated for cause – after due process hearings – so that these officers are not rehired by other departments; tighten restrictions on when police can use so-called no-knock warrants during raids; and prohibiting the transfer to the police of military equipment such as flash grenades.

But a section on the use of force remains a point of contention. Under current law, officers can shoot if they fear for their lives or those around them. The draft order authorizes the use of deadly force only “as a last resort when there is no reasonable alternative, that is to say only when necessary to prevent injury imminent and serious bodily injury or death”.

The policy change and others in the ordinance apply only to federal law enforcement, but state and local law enforcement could be encouraged to adopt the changes as well due to a provision on discretionary federal grants. (Discretionary grants are only a small portion of the billions of dollars Congress spends on local law enforcement.)

According to officials who worked on the project, earlier versions of the order had explicitly called for making these grants conditional on the adoption of the new policies. But the leaked version is softer, saying the money should be distributed “in a way that furthers political goals,” like the use of force standard.

Civil rights groups insist that use-of-force language remain in the final order. Udi Ofer, the American Civil Liberties Union’s national deputy political director, said Mr Biden had “the power to bring to life a strong norm that will save lives”.

But Mr Pasco described the provision as a deal breaker, arguing it would open the door to ‘retrospective thinking’ by officers. He said the White House should instead focus on ideas for which there was consensus.

It remains to be seen what the administration will do. For now, however, police squad leaders say they have a chance to make their case more forcefully.

“Crime is a problem and I think the president recognizes that,” Wexler said. “The pendulum is swinging back to crime as an important priority.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Inside a near breakdown between the White House and the police
Inside a near breakdown between the White House and the police
Newsrust - US Top News
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