The Justice Department has announced a new use-of-force policy that explicitly requires officers and agents to intervene to stop other officers from engaging in excessive force.
In a memo to the heads of agencies under the Justice Department, including the FBI, DEA, ATF, Bureau of Prisons, and U.S. Marshals Service, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the updated policy, which takes effect on July 19, 2022, more closely aligns with the training and best practices those agencies have adopted since the policy was last updated in 2004.
The new rules draw from the 2020 National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, which was drafted by a coalition of 11 law enforcement groups in response to the nationwide public outcry about police killings, Mr. Garland said.
“It is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life,” the policy begins. “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.”
Deadly force may be used only when the officer has a reasonable belief that the person “poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person”—and not against people “whose actions are a threat solely to themselves or property.”
The policy makes clear that officers may not use deadly force solely to stop a person from running away or fire their guns to stop a car.
It emphasizes de-escalation, directing that officers receive training in how to deal with a person who is resisting arrest without using deadly force as well as how to get a person to cooperate before using force at all.
Noting that “reducing the need for force allows officers to secure their own safety as well as the safety of the public,” the policy encourages officers to use de-escalation tactics and techniques “if objectively feasible.”
Importantly, the policy imposes both an affirmative duty to intervene and stop other officers from engaging in excessive force and an affirmative duty to render medical aid—rules that have taken on increased urgency in light of recent events, including the police killing of George Floyd two years ago.
Earlier this year, former Minneapolis police officers were convicted of federal civil rights violations for failing to stop Derek Chauvin from killing Mr. Floyd and for failing to provide medical help to Mr. Floyd in time to prevent his death.
“The Justice Department will continue to seek accountability for law enforcement officers whose actions, or failure to act, violate their constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of our citizens,” Mr. Garland said in a statement announcing the convictions. “George Floyd should be alive today.”
The use-of-force policy builds on department-wide policies announced last fall that explicitly prohibit the use of chokeholds, carotid restraints, and no-knock warrants, practices implicated in “a number of recent tragedies,” including when Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor in her home while executing a no-knock warrant on March 13, 2020.
Justice Department policies do not apply to local or state police departments, but federal law enforcement can set an important example of “best practices” for local departments.