States diverge on police reforms after George Floyd’s murder

DENVER (AP) – Maryland has repealed its half-century-old Law Enforcement Bill of Rights. Washington state reformed use of force policies and created a new agency to investigate when officers use lethal force. And California overcame objections from police unions to make sure officers fired in one jurisdiction couldn’t be hired in another.

These are some of the far-reaching policing changes adopted this year in response to the 2020 George Floyd murder in Minneapolis. But the state’s first full year of legislative sessions since his death sparked a summer of racial justice protests produced a much more mixed response across the rest of the country.

A number of states have implemented gradual reforms, such as banning strangulation or tightening the rules around the use of body cameras, while several Republican-led states have responded by granting police yet another more authority and passing laws that cracked down on protesters.

State action on both sides of the debate came as Congress failed to implement police reforms aimed at strengthening officer accountability. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed in the United States House without a single Republican vote, then collapsed in the equally divided Senate.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 356,000 law enforcement officers, said he believed it was still possible for Congress to pass reform of the police. police, but perhaps only after another fatal case caught the country’s attention.

“Unfortunately, the only thing we are sure of is going to be a tragedy that precipitates change,” Pasco said.

He said the tendency for states to adopt their own policing measures according to their policy creates more divisions in an already fractured country.

Partisan leanings were at play in Maryland, which 50 years ago became the first state to pass an officers’ bill of rights that included job protections in the police disciplinary process, measures that eventually spread. to about 20 other states. This year, he became the first to repeal those rights after lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly overturned Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto.

They replaced the Bill of Rights with new procedures that give civilians a role in police discipline. Democratic lawmakers have also united to pass other reforms over Hogan’s objections or without his signature, including expanding public access to police disciplinary records and creating a unit within the attorney general’s office. state to investigate deaths involving police.

“Other states can use this legislation as a model to create meaningful police reform,” said Rashawn Ray, senior researcher at the Brookings Institute.

In Washington state, a series of sweeping reforms will ban police from using strangles and no-strike warrants, create a new state agency to investigate police use of lethal force, and will change the threshold at which officers can use force. Some law enforcement officials said they were unclear what they were required to do, leading to differences over how to react to certain situations.

California has created a statewide certification system for officers, in part to prevent police officers dismissed in one jurisdiction from finding employment elsewhere. The bill stalled in the legislature last year and struggled to gain support again this year in the face of opposition from police unions. It was adopted after being amended to allow the suspension of the officer’s license as a lesser sentence and to include other guarantees.

“This is not an anti-police bill. This is an accountability bill, ”said Democratic State MP Akilah Weber, who passed the legislation in this chamber. “Without any liability, we lose the integrity of the badge and the link with the community is severed.”

California has also asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate all fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians, clarifying when officers have a duty to intervene to prevent or report excessive force. , and raised the minimum age for becoming a police officer from 18 to 21.

The state reform bills passed in 2021 are important because they help promote police accountability, which can change the behavior of officers as long as the changes are implemented, said project manager Puneet Cheema. Justice in Public Safety at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. .

To try to prevent violent encounters with police in the first place, she said governments need to limit what police are asked to do – for example whether or not they should respond to people facing a mental health crisis or perform certain road checks.

“It’s a longer term shift that will lead to the biggest changes in police violence and the role police play in people’s lives,” Cheema said.

Even some states with divided governments were able to agree on certain reforms.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, signed a partial ban on strike ban mandates approved by the Legislature, where Republicans hold veto-proof qualified majorities. The bill was passed after months of protests against Breonna Taylor’s fatal shooting at her Louisville home in a botched raid last year. It allows no-strike warrants if there is “clear and compelling evidence” that the crime under investigation “would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender.”

Many protesters and some Democratic lawmakers had called for a total ban, but the law prevents cities from banning warrants altogether.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed a bill passed by the Republican-led legislature that creates a public database where anyone can check whether an officer’s certification has been suspended or revoked. It also creates another confidential database of cases in which an officer kills or seriously injures someone that is only accessible to law enforcement agencies.

In Louisiana, the Democratic governor and lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature have placed new restrictions on the use of strangles and no-knock warrants, demanded detailed policies for the use of body cameras and dash cams, spurred law enforcement efforts to recruit minorities and required anti-bias training. They also agreed to require the suspension or revocation of a police officer’s state certificate if the officer commits professional misconduct.

Some fully Republican-controlled states have gone along with the opposition and extended police rights or cracked down on protesters.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced measures early in this year’s legislative session to ban racial profiling by police and establish a racial data tracking system for police checks. But lawmakers ditched those sections of his proposal and instead passed the Back the Blue Act, which Reynolds signed in June. The law makes it more difficult to prosecute and obtain damages against police accused of misconduct, makes rioting a felony, and provides legal protection from prosecution for the driver of a vehicle that could strike a protester.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed a bill that increases penalties for blocking roads and grants immunity to drivers who kill or injure rioters. This was sparked by an incident in Tulsa last year in which the driver of a van walked through a crowd gathered on a freeway as part of a protest against Floyd’s murder.

In Ohio, people attending a rally accused of violating a riot law could be targeted by a provision normally used against terrorist activity under the legislation proposed by the GOP. Florida also passed a law cracking down on violent protests that had been championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, but a federal judge prevented it from coming into force, calling the law “vague and too broad.”

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Associated Press writers Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Don Thompson in Sacramento, California; and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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