The nationwide protests calling for defunding police departments has led local governments to move more quickly than they have in the past in pressing for law enforcement reforms. Soon after the escalation of violence against protesters, the Miami-Dade County Police Department announced it would no longer allow the use of chokeholds by its police officers. Other localities like Los Angeles have added their own chokehold bans, but as many have pointed out, chokehold bans are less than a Band-Aid for the kinds of restructuring, reallocation of funding, and true reforms that are needed in order to begin the process of changing the system. Case in point: Eric Garner was killed in 2014 by a police officer who was using a banned chokehold.
Largely superficial bans on chokeholds are a good start, but more must be done—and some communities are taking action. Here’s a rundown of how some local government officials are reforming their police policies.
Even with the protests there were sparked worldwide by the deaths of Ahmed Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, it wasn’t until unarmed Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back and killed by police in a Wendy’s parking lot that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that she “will sign a series of administrative orders requiring Atlanta police officers to use only the amount of objectively reasonable force necessary to protect themselves or others to make an arrest or bring someone resisting under control.” What this means exactly is hard to say.
The reality is that current Atlanta law enforcement policy, according to CBS News, is that deadly force can be used if an officer “reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury and when [the officer] reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”
On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of police reform bills that included criminalizing certain chokeholds and restraints. Chokeholds like the one that killed Eric Garner in 2014 were already “prohibited” by the New York Police Department (NYPD), but the new bill would make these kinds of restraints a class C felony that, if convicted, could lead to 15 years in prison for the officer involved. Another impactful part of New York’s new police reforms is an executive order Cuomo signed that would make state funding to law enforcement agencies “contingent on New York agencies developing a plan by April 1” of 2021. Other parts of the bills being pushed through offer up more transparency of officers’ prior records of conduct, and complaints against them.
On Monday, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters that the NYPD would be dismantling it’s Anti-Crime Units of plain-clothes cops. “Within the last hour, I chaired a meeting of all the senior executives in the department it is regarding deployment of precinct-level and PSA-level (Public Service Area, for public housing complexes) anti-crime police officers, these are the plain-clothed units that operate our traditional anti-crime. Effective immediately, we will be transitioning those units, roughly 600 people citywide, into a variety of assignments, including detective units, neighborhood policing and other assignments.”
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas sent out a press release this past Thursday with a list of new measures approved by the Board of Police Commissioners during an emergency board meeting. The measures are mostly review-based, changing how often various aspects of law enforcement’s use of force are reviewed and by whom. Mayor Lucas has been hearing a lot from his constituents—and he will continue to hear from them until he pushes forward on more substantial steps.
The Seattle City Council voted to ban the use of tear gas by law enforcement on top of banning chokeholds. It also voted that the use of “mourning bands” to cover badge numbers by law enforcement would be prohibited. These bans are a part of three bills put forward, including one that would ban the use of crowd control devices such as “Kinetic Impact Projectile, Chemical Irritant, Acoustic Weapon, Directed Energy Weapon, Water Cannon, Disorientation Device or Ultrasonic Cannon. It would also prohibit any device that is designed to be used on multiple individuals for crowd control and has the potential to cause pain or discomfort.”
Minneapolis City Council officials announced a plan at the end of the first week of June for dismantling the existing Minneapolis Metro Police Department. (The same department that killed George Floyd.) The plan would replace the existing law enforcement agency with a “community-led public safety” unit.
Louisville City Council officials voted to ban the controversial and dangerous practice of “no-knock” search warrant raids. These are the types of search warrants that have led to numerous deaths and injuries in innocent individuals, including 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor, who was shot eight times and killed after police busted through her door after midnight.
California has its own sets of reforms and moves. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said she will move to end police response to noncriminal situations, instead moving toward unarmed but trained individuals. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the press that he would be redirecting around $150 million from the city’s police department into community programs.
The Texas Tribune reports that the Austin City Council voted to approve measures that would “limit” the police department’s use of force and ban “less lethal” weapons during protests. The council also called on the city manager to propose budget reductions to the police department in the following year’s budget.
All of these ongoing reforms and conversations around the country will need to make sure to focus on the reallocation of funds going forward. We are entering serious economic lows across the country; as we slowly rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, how we decide to use our money and what we choose to invest in will make an enormous impact on our future as a country.