May 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Justice Department will direct federal agents to intervene if they see police abuse

Picture of Merrick Garland
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Justice Department is updating its use-of-force policy to direct federal agents to intervene if they witness any law enforcement official using "excessive force" in a way that violates the law.

Why it matters: The department's policy has not been updated since 2004, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a memo. The addition comes after years of protests over police killings, particularly involving Black people.

State of play: Federal law enforcement agencies under DOJ must "designate a senior official with responsibility for implementation," which Garland said will ensure that all necessary policy components will be ready by July 19, when the new policy is set to take effect.

Details: The new addition to the department's rule states that federal agents have an "affirmative duty to intervene to prevent or stop, as appropriate, any office 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."

  • Agents also "will be trained in, and must recognize and act upon, the affirmative duty to request and/or render medical aid, as appropriate, where needed."

Between the lines: The policy is also more specific when addressing the use of deadly force, according to The Washington Post. The 2004 version states that officers can 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."

  • Garland's memo states that "[i]t is the policy of the [DOJ] to value and preserve human life," and as a result, deadly force cannot be use on individuals fleeing, to stop a moving vehicle, or on individuals that "are a threat solely to themselves or property."

What they're saying: "The policy reflects the excellence we have come to expect from the Department's officers and agents, while protecting their safety and the safety of the people and communities we serve," Garland said.

Go deeper