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An Update on Efforts to Reform the Police

Social Justice Policy Brief # 21 | By: Erika Shannon | August 4, 2021

Header photo taken from: Louisiana Illuminator

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Photo taken from: WBUR

Statistics show that black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, which is why police reform and rebuilding trust between law enforcement and minorities is so important in today’s climate. Local leaders have proposed using the funds to expand law enforcement, invest in social services, or develop technology used to prevent gun violence.

   While it is evident that there is not one, simple approach to police reform in the U.S., over the past year we have seen several cities and states attempt to make changes in their police departments. From implementing crisis response teams to eliminating no-knock warrants and chokeholds, all efforts are a step in the right direction. Last year, police officers killed over 1,100 people in the U.S., and any steps towards reforming law enforcement agencies are a step in the right direction.

In Louisiana, three new police reform measures will take effect on January 1, 2022. House Bill 129 establishes new mandates for the Council on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which will establish training curriculum and will certify all law enforcement officers in the state with its standards. This means that all police officers in the state will have to go through an in-service anti-bias training program, and in order to investigate officer-involved shootings, law enforcement agencies must be certified  and have completed necessary coursework and training. House Bill 430, will change parts of the “officer’s bill of rights,” with regards to internal investigations.

It will give more time for internal investigations to be completed, as long as mandating that complaints remain in an officer’s personnel file for at least ten years. This is a good thing, as it forces police officers to be accountable for actions taken while on the job. It doesn’t apply to unsubstantiated claims, but any complaints supported by evidence will remain for those ten years at minimum. The final piece of legislation, Senate Bill 34, prohibits chokeholds and no-knock warrants and mandates policies for officer’s dashboard and body-worn cameras.

Any law enforcement agency vehicles that are equipped with dashboard cameras are now required to use them. This bill also states that there must be a new policy drafted regarding the activation of an officer’s body-worn camera.

In Washington State, House Bill 1310 was signed into law earlier this year and has recently gone into effect. This new law governs when and how police officers can use force against members of the public. The law will create an expectation for officers to de-escalate and requires police to exercise care in the use of any force. The idea behind it is to reduce violence and prioritize the sanctity of life. 

There has been a bit of resistance as people worry that cops will not respond to certain calls for fear of breaking the law and losing their job. However, the new law just requires them to use reasonable care when engaging with people, especially those in crisis. 

Washington has started a massive police reform effort, and the bill will also do things like ban chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants. Police will also be restricted as to when they can engage in car chases, and de-escalation techniques must happen before they use any force. 

Photo taken from: GovTrack.us

Other states will likely follow in the footsteps of Louisiana and Washington, as calls to reform the police have been ramping up since the death of George Floyd in May of 2020. 

Minnesota passed a law banning the police used of chokeholds and neck restraints last year; while just this year Illinois passed House Bill 163, which also bans chokeholds and legally requires officers to step in if another cop is using excessive force. 

Certain cities across the country are also implementing crisis response teams in order to reduce police officers injuries, as well as reduce the number of incidents where police officers use force. 

The idea is that police officers are not adequately trained to respond to mental health crises, and sending out members of a special crisis response team to individuals with mental illnesses, rather than have them be arrested with no access to mental health services, is a wise alternative.

We have not seen a lot of police reform at a federal level recently, which is understandable. Police departments across the country are run differently depending on their location, and it will be hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution.

The federal level efforts we have seen have been part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. President Biden hopes that local officials will invest some of the money in police departments and establish community-based programs to help rebuild trust between people of color and law enforcement.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on image to visit resource website.

  • For statistics on police-involved violence, as well as names and locations of victims, visit the Mapping Police Violence website.
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