WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump, facing criticism that his policies and inflammatory rhetoric have aggravated a racial divide in the United States, signed an order on Tuesday aimed at improving police practices and said that "Americans want law and order."
After weeks of protests against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed on May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis, Trump offered a policy response to rising concerns about racial injustice going into the Nov. 3 election in which he is seeking a second term.
"Americans want law and order, they demand law and order," Trump said at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden before signing the executive order.
The Republican president offered his condolences to the families of victims of recent police and other violence, and vowed to pursue justice.
In his public comments and on Twitter, Trump has called for crackdowns on protesters and emphasized a forceful and militarized response to the social unrest sparked by the death of Floyd and others. Opinion polls show widespread concerns among Americans about police brutality.
The executive order encourages police departments to employ the latest standards for use of force, improve information sharing so that officers with poor records are not hired without their backgrounds being known, and add social workers to law enforcement responses to non-violent cases involving drug addiction and homelessness, officials said.
Trump reiterated on Tuesday that he opposes calls to "defund the police" by reimagining or even dismantling police departments. Leading Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, have not embraced such calls, but Republicans have jumped on the issue.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives is expected to vote later this month on sweeping legislation put forward by the Congressional Black Caucus to rein in police misconduct.
Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their own legislation on Wednesday that concentrates more on data collection than on policy changes in areas involving lethal force.
Democrats want to allow victims of misconduct and their families to sue police, an idea that Republicans oppose. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to reduce job protections for members of law enforcement unions. The two sides also are at odds over a Democratic proposal to ban police chokeholds.
Some Republicans say the two sides are so far apart on key issues that no final action is likely until after the July 4 holiday.
Attorney General William Barr, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Tim Scott, who is developing the Republican legislation, attended Tuesday's White House signing.
One civil rights group said Trump's action did not go far enough.
"While the order takes some steps forward, it is an inadequate response to a nation demanding sweeping, bold action," Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement.