Police

This Week in Policing Reform: Utah Outlaws Kneeling on Suspects' Necks, Memphis P.D. Ends No-Knock Raids

There's a lot going on. Here's a rundown of significant police reform news from around the country.

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You might have noticed that there's a lot of criminal justice news right now. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming to keep track of what's going on at the local, state, and federal levels. Here's a quick roundup of some of the most significant policing reforms that passed (or failed) over the last week.

Congress 

  • Last night the Democrat-led House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act by a largely party-line vote. The bill would end qualified immunity—a legal doctrine that shields cops from liability in civil rights lawsuits—establish a national registry for police misconduct, ban police chokeholds and no-knock raids in some circumstances, and limit the transfer of military equipment to state and local police departments. It would also require federal law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and to have dashboard cameras installed in their vehicles. However, Republicans and the White House say ending qualified immunity is a deal-breaker.
  • Senate Republicans' more modest policing reform bill, the JUSTICE Act, introduced by Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.), is dead in the water after Democrats blocked debate on it. Democrats and civil liberties groups oppose the bill, saying it doesn't go nearly far enough to address systemic problems in American policing. Republicans say the bill strikes a balance between addressing needed reforms and supporting police as an institution.
  • Sen. Mike Braun (R–Ind.), bucking the rest of his party, introduced the Reforming Qualified Immunity Act, which would not end the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, but it would come close.
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reintroduced the FAIR Act today, which would significantly reform federal civil asset forfeiture.

State-level Package Bills

  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a sweeping police reform bill into law. The new laws will, among other provisions, require officers to wear body cameras and record police-initiated interactions with the public; create a database of police use-of-force incidents; forbid officers from firing less-than-lethal projectiles at someone's head, pelvis, or back, and bars cops from firing indiscriminately into crowds; and strip police officers of qualified immunity in civil court if they are sued for violating people's rights or for failing to intervene when they witness another officer violating a person's rights.
  • Police reform legislation collapsed in the Minnesota legislature amid a partisan standoff between the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate, and lawmakers left the special session with nothing to show for their work. Republican senate majority leader Paul Gazelka told reporters the legislature is "weeks and weeks away from the possibility of doing something with criminal justice reform."
  • Hopes of police reform also look dim in Georgia, where Democrats have introduced bills that would restrict police use of tear gas, tasers, and choke holds. Georgia House Republicans, meanwhile, passed a bill that would have made police officers a protected class under a new hate crime law. That provision was stripped from the state senate's version of the legislation.

Use-of-Force

  • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law on Thursday that makes it a third-degree felony for a police officer to kneel on a suspect's neck as a method of restraint and a first-degree felony if that action resulted in a person's death.
  • The Louisiana House unanimously passed a bill to study policing tactics statewide, but not before removing a reference to George Floyd.
  • The Memphis Police Department announced it will no longer execute no-knock search warrants following the March death of Breonna Taylor in botched no-knock SWAT raid. 
  • The Omaha Police Department updated its use-of-force policies to prohibit officers from using their knees to pin someone's neck to the ground.
  • In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested for using a banned chokehold, the first cop to be prosecuted under a new law prohibiting chokeholds.

Surveillance

  • The Boston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning the city government from using facial recognition technology.
  • Santa Cruz, California, banned the use of predictive policing tools.

Transparency

  • The New York City Council passed the POST Act, which will require the NYPD to disclose all of the surveillance technology that it uses on the public.
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order requiring the police department to identify ways to improve compliance with body camera policies and responsiveness to public records requests for body cam footage, as well as provide a way for the public to submit recordings of police use-of-force incidents for investigations. The order also calls for strengthening the Atlanta Citizen Review Board.

School Policing

As Reason reported yesterday, school districts around the country are considering ending their contracts with local police departments.

  • The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to end its memorandum of understanding with the San Francisco Police Department.
  • The Oakland school board also voted unanimously on Wednesday to eliminate the district's police department and shift its $2.5 million budget to student support services.
  • The Chicago Board of Education rejected a proposal, supported by teachers unions, to terminate its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposed the proposal, but it was still only narrowly defeated by a 4-3 vote.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District also voted down three separate proposals to address the use of SROs, including one that would have slashed the school police budget by 90 percent, after an 11-hour marathon session.
  • School police officers in Philadelphia will be renamed "school safety officers" and wear new, less severe uniforms when school (hypothetically) resumes in September.

Police Unions

  • A labor coalition in Seattle, Washington, voted to expel the city's police union.

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  1. Be clear: Democrats scuttled ANY attempt at Police reform this year. The Senate bill could have been debated, and the GOP had agreed to allow any amendments to be proposed by Dems and voted for. And then had it passed, it would have been brought to reconciliation between the House and the Senate bill.

    Democrats stopped this process. Whether they disagreed with the republican proposal or not, it could have gone forward and failed if the GOP chose to walk away during reconciliation. The DEMOCRATS killed this bill.

    I know that I tend to side with the GOP- it is an old habit. But this passive language (“the bill is dead in the water”) is ridiculous. And giving the Democrats cover for BLOCKING any chance at negotiation by saying they disagree with it, is shady in the extreme.

    1. Counterpoint: The Democrats bill was good (even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once and a while), and the Republican one didn’t go nearly far enough.

      Why go tweaking and debating about an inferior bill when you already have a better one? Qualified immunity is terrible, and the Republicans insisting on keeping it means they aren’t actually serious about doing anything. They need to appear to do something because lots of people are mad right now, but they don’t actually want police to be held accountable or they’d be on board with killing qualified immunity. Their bill does nothing other than allow them to pat themselves on the back, and it’s getting all the respect it deserves.

      1. Redirect: why the fuck aren’t you bitching at local governments to do anything, and instead running to Daddy Fed?

        QI needs reform, but it’s a red herring. Taking it away from police ONLY would be worse than it is now. You’d get nothing but chopchaz, plus a bunch of democrat lawyers making law enforceable only against their political enemies.

        The Ds killed police reform because they wouldn’t allow the Rs to get any credit, and the R proposal didn’t give them the graft they demand

        1. My State already got rid of it, I don’t need to bitch at any of my local politicians.

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      2. Democrats should wait until they have the power to enact strong legislation over the objections of authoritarian Republicans. We have waited a long time for this opportunity — and, I hope, will leash the drug warriors and reduce police militarization as part of a wave of reform — and waiting until January to effect genuine progress seems the proper course.

        Right-wingers will get to whimper and rant all they want about all of the damned progress, of course.

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      3. Counter-counterpoint: The Democrats’ bill had some very good parts but it was also loaded with pork and poison pills. It had no chance of passing and the drafters knew it. It was designed to let them look like they were “doing something” without being accountable for anything.

        If you really want to get useful reform done, both the Rs and the Ds should have followed Amash’s approach and broken the bills down into discrete proposals to be debated and passed individually. This ‘all or nothing’ posturing is transparent politics at the expense of governance.

        1. If you really want to get useful reform done, both the Rs and the Ds should have followed Amash’s approach and broken the bills down into discrete proposals to be debated and passed individually.

          That’s a big “if”. 8-(

        2. There were not “poison pills” in the House bill, only measures that the Rs would not want. It only had no chance because the Rs do not want any real change. Ds would have loved to pass the House bill into law.

          1. Ds would have loved to pass the House bill into law.

            Ds would have loved to lose the stamp of approval of every police union in the country?

            Trolls gotta troll.

          2. Oh I think the Ds lost the police union support a while ago. Why would a police union support Ds over Rs?

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    2. Mitch said the the House bill is “dead on arrival” in the Senate. You can’t blame one side for doing the exact thing the other side has. And you are even more wrong because the Senate bill was weak sauce that would have done nothing to fix the problem. The House wanted real change.

      1. There’s definitely problems on both sides, but there’s also a reason to blame one side more than the other. The House Bill is DOA because it has too much stuff in it-they put stuff in it that the other party does not want. The Senate Bill is dead not because it has polices the Ds hate, but because it doesn’t have ENOUGH policies the Ds like.

        They could have just accepted the small victory, passed the bill that has stuff everyone wants, and then fought for QI and other issues separately, like the Amash bill. Instead they insist you must pass everything they want in their bill or else there’s no bill.

        1. If they pass a weak reform now, then the political momentum will stall and it could be 20 years before another one could be passed. You see this pattern on many issues. The Ds are right to keep pushing for the right bill.

  2. “The Boston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning the city government from using facial recognition technology.”

    Yeah. And as reported, it will ban them from unlocking their own iPhones.

  3. “A labor coalition in Seattle, Washington, voted to expel the city’s police union.”

    You know you fucked up when all the other union goons give up on solidarity and kick you out. In Seattle of all places!

    1. Or maybe the extreme right wing cop union doesn’t give enough to the democrats?

  4. Well, let’s see here; I got a suspect bigger than me, holding an object that may of may not be a cell phone. It is blind drunk, and matches 95% to a description on the radio of a felony looting suspect. It is rapidly walking towards me and I gotta do something. If I take it down, I might wind up touching the neck area; I don’t have pepper spray anymore ’cause of the reforms. So I guess I gotta shoot it. Or just let it go to pillage the neighborhood some more. Less paperwork in letting it go; I think I’ll get a donut and some coffee.

    1. You’re acting like avoiding real danger and going home safely wasn’t already their top priority. Qualified immunity or not, most cops are avoiding the situation you described because they’re cowards.

  5. Last night the Democrat-led House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

    What can be construed from naming an act of Congress after a convicted violent felon?

    1. Same thing that can be construed from naming anything after a politician?

    2. Professional courtesy?

    3. Well, it definitely means Chauvin is going to get a fair trial, right? How could Chauvin possibly be found innocent when Congress and the media have canonized him as the patron saint of criminal justice?

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    1. Open wider, clingers!

  6. and strip police officers of qualified immunity in civil court if they are sued for violating people’s rights or for failing to intervene when they witness another officer violating a person’s rights.

    I’m too lazy to read the text of this bill, was this able to only target cops for Qualified Immunity restrictions?

  7. The Utah bill is ridiculous. It out laws “kneeing” on someones neck specifically. Stepping on, crushing with one’s elbow, strangling, and anything else not involving a knee is still legal. For all of those the police are just not allowed to train that it is ok.

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