The Department of Justice has updated its use-of-force policy for the first time since 2004, thus empowering federal agents to intervene when other law enforcement officials use excessive force.
The new policy was outlined Friday in a rank-and-file memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland. The changes possibly reflect years of protests over police killings of suspects.
Garland's four-page memo was addressed to the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons.
It also provided updated training practices in federal law enforcement.
''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,'' the memo states.
It's worth noting: The policy, which reportedly goes into effect July 19, does not oblige state and local police — or other federal law enforcement agencies outside the Justice Department's purview — to follow a similar standard.
In the ''duty to intervene'' update, federal law enforcement officers now have clear obligations to prevent excessive shows of force, and speak up when someone requires urgent medical care.
''Officers will be trained in, and must recognize and act upon, the affirmative duty to request and/or render medical aid, as appropriate, where needed,'' according to the memo.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the policy updated didn't reflect a single incident or brief timeline of police activity.
Rather, it's an effort to bring sustainable rules and guidelines into federal law enforcement.
''It's the modernization of policing, and you need to update policies to reflect what's going on in our country,'' Cosme said.
''Every officer that's a good officer is always going to try to do their jobs to the best of their ability, and this reinforces what the men and women in federal law enforcement are already doing.''
In previous years, the Justice Department recommended that officers not fire weapons at people solely because they're fleeing. The same held true for firing into vehicles with the sole intention of stopping the cars.
Going further, the updated policy dictates that deadly force should not be used ''against persons whose actions are a threat solely to themselves or property unless an individual poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others in close proximity.''
The Garland memo also says that ''officers may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.''
All told, ''it is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life. Officers may use only the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively gain control of an incident, while protecting the safety of the officer and others.
''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 officers on the scene would use under the same or similar circumstances,'' the memo states.
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