States Are, In Fact, Pursuing Police Reform

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Thursday, July 9th, 2020, 2:23 PM PERMALINK

The killing of George Floyd has sparked a national conversation on police reform.

In Congress, Democrats have cynically blocked Sen. Tim Scott’s reform bill. But this issue is largely a state matter. The federal government can use aid to incentivize and punish certain choices, but ultimately, power resides locally. 

Despite some misperceptions, states and cities are busy proposing and enacting various reforms – for better and worse. Since late May, 169 police reform bills have been introduced in 23 states and the District of Columbia. With half the states acting, and most of the other half out of session by June, it’s disingenuous for anyone to say states are not taking action.   

Colorado passed legislation which requires body camera use by all officers, bans chokeholds and carotid holds, penalizes police officers who fail to intervene when another officer uses excessive force, and ends qualified immunity at the state level, among several other police reform measures. 

Police body cameras have been central to state level reform efforts. Bills have been introduced in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Georgia, and Tennessee which would expand the use of police body cameras and require preservation of filmed evidence. Some states, including New Mexico and New York, will impose penalties on police officers who fail to record public interactions. Massachusetts introduced a bill asserting the right of individuals to film police interactions with the public. 

There is considerable interest in banning no-knock warrants in light of Breonna Taylor’s death, although no legislation is currently underway at the state level. The city of Louisville, Kentucky, where Ms. Taylor was killed, has since banned no-knock warrants. The Kentucky legislature is not currently in session, but there may be efforts there and in other states to end the practice in coming months. No-knock warrants are legal in every state except Florida and Oregon. 

Other legislation is focused on police conduct. Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Utah are considering bills which would ban or restrict the use of chokeholds. Iowa has already passed a bill banning the practice. Georgia, New York, and Minnesota are considering banning law enforcement from purchasing surplus military equipment from the Department of Defense. Additionally, bills introduced in Minnesota would impose liability on police officers for failing to intervene and report when another officer uses excessive force. 

Of course, we cannot forget that right before unrest burst out across the country, Arizona Democrats failed to support civil asset forfeiture reform, choosing instead to allow the continued seizure of innocent parties’ property by police. Asset forfeiture disproportionately impacts low-income individuals and poses an obvious conflict of interest which inhibits the equal distribution of justice. The fight for forfeiture reform must continue in states across the country. 

Cities like New York, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles have taken up “defund the police” efforts, dangerous gambits as these cities face an alarming rise in violent crime. 

 It is critical to remember there is more to the criminal justice system than the police. Overcriminalization causes unnecessary interaction between citizens and the authorities, and creates confusion as people cannot be expected to know what all the laws are. Additionally, policies like civil asset forfeiture and revenue-grabbing fines and fees turn police officers into tax collectors.  

There are many more areas in need of reform; policing isn’t to blame for every problem currently being debated.

Photo Credit: Adrian Owen

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