The DOJ says federal officers can’t stand by while their coworkers kill people anymore

A new directive says the department will “value and preserve human life,” which really seems like it should have already been the case.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

When it comes to law enforcement, a lot of discussions focus on police at a local level. Fair enough, given that’s who most people are going to interact with. However, the federal government also has law enforcement, and honestly, they’re kind of trash, too. Don’t believe me? Consider that the Department of Justice just started requiring officers to intervene when they see abuse.

In a memo published by The Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland notified officers of the new policy, which states that officers will be trained to recognize and intervene “to prevent or stop, as appropriate, any officer from engaging in excessive force.”

The policy also goes a little deeper into the use of deadly force. Per the Post, the 2004 version stated 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."

However, the new language stresses that “it is the policy of the Department of Justice to value and preserve human life.” It goes on to add, “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.”

The Justice Department includes agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service, and the FBI. For each DOJ law enforcement agency, the policy takes effect in July. Within his memo, Garland noted that the updated policy draws from the 2020 National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, which was put together by 11 major law enforcement groups at a federal, state, and local level.

Before last Friday, the Justice Department hadn’t updated its use-of-force policy in 18 years. Per CNN, the policy aligns with a series of reform measures that the Biden administration plans to announce as soon as Wednesday, the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. These reforms come after a much more sweeping reform plan was blocked by Republicans in Congress.

The policy might seem like an update to be celebrated. The Justice Department values our lives now, yay! But let’s be honest. Half-hearted reform measures like this don’t amount to much. Remember the decades of chokehold bans for police that we have?