Interior Launches Probe Into Role of Law Enforcement at Department
Task force will review policies in wake of forceful tactics used by Interior law enforcement during protests last year.
The Interior Department is launching a task force to establish new standards for all of its law enforcement personnel, with leadership pointing to recent allegations of excessive tactics during protests last year.
The task force will develop strategies for improving public trust in Interior's law enforcement officers to ensure "appropriate policy and oversight." It will also come up with tactics to improve the mental health, wellness and safety of the department’s officers.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a memorandum referenced last year’s events in Lafayette Park, the area just north of the White House. Forceful tactics and deployment of chemical irritants by federal and local law enforcement to disperse crowds protesting the police killing of George Floyd immediately before President Trump left the White House to take photos holding a Bible in front of St. John's Church, which had sustained damage during the protests, sparked significant backlash and accusations of illegal actions by various agencies. Interior’s U.S. Park Police played a large role in those actions and a recent inspector general report found the law enforcement agency failed to maintain clear communication between agencies and said it needed a clearer policy on when and how to notify protesters to disperse. Park Police used speakers to send dispersal messages before they deployed, but they were widely considered ineffective and inaudible to much of the crowd.
The IG did not investigate whether the Park Police used appropriate decision making on that day, but noted it did not violate any statutes or regulations.
Haaland said that in response to the findings, Interior must ensure it implements “the highest standards for protecting the public and provides necessary policy guidance, resources and training.”
“Interior’s law enforcement programs and officers play a crucial role in protecting our nation’s most cherished resources and the members of the public who visit them,” Haaland said. “I am confident that this department-wide approach will identify meaningful paths to assist law enforcement and communities in strengthening trust and collaboration, while ushering the nation into the next phase of community-focused law enforcement.”
The task force will conduct its review "through an equity lens" and by utilizing evidence-based decision making. It will be led by Interior's Office of Law Enforcement and Security. Haaland called the initiative an "extremely high priority" and called for participation from each component, namely the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Representatives from Interior's offices of Diversity, Inclusion and Civil Rights and Human Capital will also participate.