Biden-Harris, NLEAD, state of the union address, National Law Enforcement Accountability Database, law enforcement

Biden-Harris Administration Announces National Law Enforcement Accountability Database

Despite positive reactions, others have called attention to the fact that the database is searchable only by law enforcement officers.

In fulfillment of some of the notes President Joe Biden hit in his 2023 State of the Union Address, the Biden-Harris administration announced the creation of the National Law Enforcement Accountability Database (NLEAD).

The NLEAD will allow officers to access records of police misconduct as well as commendations and awards. As USA Today reports, those forms of misconduct include excessive force, creating false reports, engaging in discriminatory behavior, and sexual misconduct. The Justice Department’s press release states, “The NLEAD connects all federal law enforcement agencies under one accountability infrastructure. With the NLEAD, law enforcement agency hiring personnel will have more accurate and complete information about misconduct in a job candidate’s past. Agencies can then make more informed hiring decisions, which enhances both accountability and public safety.” 

In a press release, Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to reforming the police, saying, “Every person in our nation has a right to be safe. And trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve is essential for public safety. Police misconduct undermines that trust and threatens the right to equal justice under law.”

Harris also recommended that Congress pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which she co-authored with Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass as a United States senator.

“President Biden and I will continue to do all we can to advance police accountability and strengthen the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. And we renew our call for the United States Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” Harris said.

The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund hailed the creation of the database as a good first step in a press release. Janai Nelson, the president and director-counsel, said, “Law enforcement agencies will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to the records of misconduct in officer hiring and offending officers will not be able to distance themselves from their misdeeds. We commend the Biden administration for its leadership in issuing the Executive Order and the Department of Justice for dedicating resources to bring this project to fruition. We also call on both entities to continue to strengthen accountability for police misconduct and to advance alternatives to policing that protect Black communities and enhance public safety.”

Despite these positive receptions, others have called attention to the fact that the database is only searchable by law enforcement officers and not the general public, among other issues. In a press release, the ACLU critiqued the lack of penalty for officers with a record of police misconduct, saying, “It requires federal law enforcement agencies to provide information about misconduct, but would not bar an individual with a record of misconduct from being hired or penalize agencies for hiring them. Also, the database is not available to the public, only includes the last seven years of records, and is entirely voluntary for state and local law enforcement agencies to participate.”

Nina Patel, the ACLU’s senior policy counsel, said that while the database may help toward accountability, the police continue to have the authority to stop citizens for whatever they desire.

“Today’s launch of a non-public federal police misconduct registry is a small step towards accountability, but we need more to address the systemic harms. The reality of policing in America is that the police have the de facto power to stop anyone, at any time, for any reason, and for Black people in particular, the encounter can be deadly,” Patel warned.

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