Innocence Project Commends President Biden’s Executive Order as a Strong First Step in Police Reform

05.31.22 By Innocence Staff

The White House. (Image: René DeAnda/Unsplash)

The White House. (Image: René DeAnda/Unsplash)

The Innocence Project commends President Biden for taking urgently needed action on police reform on the second-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. The executive order signed last week is an important first step in addressing the scourge of police misconduct in America which is a key factor in wrongful convictions. Of the more than 3,000 exonerations since 1989, police misconduct contributed to 35% of those cases.

The robust and meaningful law enforcement accountability necessary to reduce the rate of wrongful conviction and bolster the overall integrity and accuracy of the criminal legal system will require both the broad implementation of the proposals advanced by the executive order, and the adoption of similar reforms by state and local jurisdictions. It will also require the elimination of the legal doctrine of qualified immunity that allows law enforcement to evade accountability for misconduct.

That said, President Biden’s executive order includes a number of important police reform measures. First, it improves the investigation of criminal civil rights violations by police officers through pattern-or-practice investigations that can illustrate repeated, routine and/or systematic  misconduct. These investigations help to remedy unlawful police practices that can and do lead to wrongful conviction and civil rights violations.

Second, it establishes a national registry of officers who were fired for misconduct. Too often, police disciplinary records are kept secret, allowing misconduct to continue without consequence. The Innocence Project further recommends the creation and use of unique identifiers that stay with officers regardless of jurisdiction to prevent officers who engage in misconduct from moving from one police agency to another with impunity, as well the inclusion of unsustained complaints against officers. It is often through the review of unsustained complaints, which are largely adjudicated internally and excluded from an officer’s public disciplinary record, that patterns of misconduct begin to emerge.

Third, the executive order bans chokeholds and restricts no-knock entries. We believe this is a vital step towards reducing police brutality, which disproportionately harms communities of color, and should be implemented in every jurisdiction across the country.