The regulation of law enforcement operates at a highly local level across the country. Even so the federal government still finds ways to use carrots to motivate state and local law enforcement agencies, or LEAs, to comply with various programs and standards. This includes recent presidential administrations that have signed executive orders to encourage local reforms using federal resources, and the current administration is no different.
On May 25, President Biden signed a broad executive order that primarily focused on law enforcement agencies and policing practices. With support from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, many of the ideas included in the order come out of bipartisan efforts in recent years, such as the 2020 JUSTICE Act by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). While most of the order is focused on the rules governing federal law enforcement agencies and officers, a significant number of provisions impact Texas LEAs at both the state and local levels.
The state and local provisions fall into three categories:
- Conditions on federal resources for local LEAs;
- Non-binding guidance and recommendations; and
- Voluntary opportunities for data sharing.
These provisions revolve around some of the main policies in the order — substantive use of force standards, support for officer wellness, agency accreditation and data sharing — and they have different timelines for implementation over the coming months.
Here’s a look at some of what’s to come:
July 24, 2022: Federal agencies will assess whether restrictions and conditions on transfers or sales to LEAs of certain military equipment — bayonets and weaponized drones, for example — can be reinstated after they were lifted in the previous administration. It also outlines some additional conditions and oversight in the transfer of this kind of equipment.
November 21, 2022: For state and local agencies, the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services will “review and exercise their authority … to award Federal discretionary grants in a manner that supports and promotes the adoption of policies in this order.” There’s an expedited timeline for all other federal agencies to review any law enforcement-related grantmaking operations.
January 20, 2023: The Department of Justice will develop and publish “standards for determining whether an entity is an authorized, independent credentialing body,” including conditions that it requires some of the substantive policies for federal agencies outlined in the executive order, such as strengthening recruitment and retention, supporting officer wellness, implementing bans on neck restraints, and limiting no-knock warrants.
Another significant development coming by next January: The Department of Justice will establish the National Law Enforcement Accountability Database. The Accountability Database will be able to house documents and records of officer misconduct, including criminal convictions, license suspensions/decertifications, terminations and civil judgments. The order stresses that officers will be afforded due process if they believe they are erroneously included in the database, but those standards and processes are not yet clear. While this is mandatory for federal agencies, it will be voluntary — and encouraged — for state and local LEAs.
What does this mean on the ground in Texas?
At a minimum, the federal grants local governments and LEAs in Texas have received will now require the adoption of new substantive policies for future awards. For example, since Fiscal Year 2020 nearly $3.9 million in federal funding have come to Texas communities and LEAs just through the Department of Justice’s Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program alone. In 2021, almost $3 million came to Texas through the School Violence Prevention Program, and over $14.8 million came down through the COPS Hiring Program to help LEAs hire more officers. These and other discretionary grant programs will come with new strings attached moving forward.
As the new programs, guidance and rules come down, LEAs across Texas should take note. They’re coming at a time when the regulation of law enforcement in the state is at a crossroads, and could play a significant role in the upcoming legislative session.