This Week in Policing Reform: Hawaii Lifts Police Secrecy, Civilian Oversight Boards Make Ballots in Miami and Philadelphia

And Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) says policing reform in Congress might not be dead after all.


It's been another busy week for policing reform around the country. While legislation remains moribund in Congress, local and state governments around the country have continued to press forward with bills and proposals addressing police use of excessive force, civilian oversight and transparency, body cameras, and police in schools.


  • Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday that he is still talking with Democrats about a possible compromise to revive stalled police reform legislation in Congress. "Folks who are now calling me about the legislation from the other side suggest that perhaps it's not dead," Scott said. "We may have a Lazarus moment, we may not."
  • Scott, the only black GOP senator, talked more about his police reform bill and why ending qualified immunity is a non-starter for Republicans in an interview with Vox's Jane Coaston this week.
  • A coalition of Black Lives Matter groups released proposed legislation, titled the BREATHE Act. The proposals are more radical than any current police reform legislation in Congress by several orders of magnitude: The act would close all federal prisons and immigration detention centers, abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration, abolish mandatory minimums and life sentences, end civil asset forfeiture, decriminalize drugs, and retroactively expunge drug offenses. And that's just for starters. It has not been introduced in Congress, although Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D–Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) said they support it.

State Reform Packages

  • The Massachusetts Senate introduced a police reform package that would, among other things, create a statutory duty to intervene when other officers use excessive force. It would also ban chokeholds and forbid police from using no-knock warrants, firing tear gas or rubber bullets at crowds, or shoot at a moving vehicle unless the use of force can be justified by "prevention of imminent harm"
  • Hawaii's legislature passed a bill Monday that will make suspensions and firings of police officers public record. The names of suspended officers are currently confidential under a 25-year-old law. The bill would also allow the state's law enforcement standards board to revoke certifications.
  • The Pennsylvania legislature sent two bills to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk, where they're awaiting signature. One will create a statewide database of disciplinary actions and personnel records of police officers, and require departments to consult the database when considering potential hires. That database will not be public. The other bill will require implicit bias and de-escalation training for local police officers.

Use of Force

  • The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, police chief Rick Maglione is no longer the police chief six weeks after members of the department's SWAT team fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Black Lives Matter protesters. Maglione defended the use of force, which left one woman with a shattered eye socket, but dogged reporting from the Miami Herald showed there was little justification for the violence. The Herald also got body camera footage of cops laughing and bragging about shooting protesters with rubber bullets.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is holding off on signing a package of police reform bills, including a chokehold ban, after a predictable tantrum from NYPD brass.
  • The St. Louis Board of Alderman unanimously passed a bill that will ban chokeholds, require de-escalation tactics, and ban no-knock warrants.
  • The Nashville Metro Council is considering several use-of-force reforms, including banning police from using tear gas.
  • Little Rock, Arkansas, officials backed away from a plan to have the state police investigate use-of-force incidents by city police.
  • The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department announced changes to its use-of-force policies to limit neck restraints.
  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office released its second report on use-of-force by the Sacramento Police Department, recommending that the department require de-escalation tactics, expand partnerships with mental health professionals, and reduce the use of K-9 units.
  • The Atlanta City Council approved legislation to amend the Atlanta Police Department's use-of-force policies, drawing from the "8 Can't Wait" platform for policing reform. The bill will ban chokeholds and shooting at moving vehicles; require de-escalation strategies and warnings before shooting; and create a statutory duty for police to intervene when they witness excessive force.
  • Last month the D.C. Council passed sweeping changes to the Metropolitan Police Department's use-of-force policies, but now they've apparently changed their minds and are going back to the drawing board.

Civilian Oversight

  • New York state Attorney General Leticia James released a preliminary report on the NYPD's violent response to recent protests, calling for "an entirely new accountability structure for NYPD." James proposes reducing the New York City mayor's power, creating a commission with power over the NYPD's budget and hiring, and strengthening the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which reviews misconduct allegations against NYPD officers but has no binding disciplinary authority.
  • Miami-Dade County commissioners voted to revive a civilian oversight board. Commissioners voted to do the same in 2018, but the mayor vetoed them. However, the proposal is also set to go on the ballot in Miami-Dade County as a charter amendment.
  • The San Diego City Council also unanimously voted, after years of pressure from activists, to put the question of a police oversight board on the November ballot. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the board "would be required to independently investigate all police-related deaths and officer-involved shootings. It could also choose to independently investigate other complaints made against officers."
  • Philadelphia voters will also choose this November whether to create a Citizens Police Oversight Commission.
  • Pasadena, California, is considering creating a civilian review board.
  • The city council of Madison, Wisconsin, voted to create a civilian review board and an independent auditor to oversee its police department. The council also blocked $50,000 in police funding for non-lethal weapons.
  • Houston's new police reform task force could overhaul the city's police oversight board.

Body Cameras

  • New Mexico will require that all state and local law enforcement officers wear body cameras.
  • Tacoma, Washington, will roll out police body cameras in early 2021.
  • Manchester, Connecticut, is considering a body camera program.

School Resource Officers

  • The Phoenix Union High School District will not renew its annual agreement with the city for school resource officers.
  • Columbus, Ohio, has disbanded its school resource officer program.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District cut its budget for school police by $25 million—33 percent—leading the school police chief to resign.