As a former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, many states across the country continue to propose policing reform bills. Over the past year, at least 36 states have signed measures that would reform police practices. These proposals include ending qualified immunity for police officers, restricting the use of tear gas and other techniques for controlling crowds. Other measures include limiting or banning no-knock warrants and state-wide bans on chokeholds. Several states are exploring procedural changes to how police-involved fatal shootings are investigated.
In a first, Maryland lawmakers voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which was first established in 1973. This bill made it difficult to discipline police officers. Going forward, police discipline will now be decided by civilian panels, with police chiefs still involved in the process. As well, police chiefs cannot impose punishment that is less than what the civilian panel recommends. By revoking the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, community justice advocates hope that it will be easier to discipline police officers who violate civil rights.
In many of the proposals, Republicans and Democrats have worked collaboratively to deliver some policing reforms. At the federal level, Republicans and Democrats have been working together to iron out the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. While both parties don’t agree on each point, both sides have presented proposals in the last year to reform policing across the country.
States have passed over 140 bills that would increase police accountability. Many bills would overhaul rules around how and when law enforcement officers are permitted to use lethal force. Many states have introduced bills that would train police officers in de-escalating techniques.
Days after a former Minneapolis police officer was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed HB237 – a bill that prescribes when Utah law enforcement officers can use deadly force. This bill would also require officers to report the use of deadly force.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) has pledged his political capital on ensuring that Minnesota has the opportunity to change the way the state is policed. When pressed to comment further, he stated that Minnesota’s politically divided House has the opportunity to show the country and the world, ‘that equity, decency and humanity should know no political boundary” when it comes to police accountability and racial equity.
But making changes to police operations across the country is challenging. Police unions have made their voices heard by opposing many of the proposed police reforms. Several states have gone in the opposite direction of police reform by passing legislation that targets protestors, like those involved in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Oklahoma Republican lawmakers introduced HB674 which would grant immunity to a motorist who kills or injures rioters.
While policing reform is being discussed in many legislatures across the country, careful consideration is needed. Safety and security needs must be balanced with police unions, law enforcement officers and community justice advocates. As many states wrap up their legislative years, future discussion in the fall should be expected. Change and reform take time and require patience and input from law enforcement agencies, legislators, community justice advocates, and community leaders.