How Are States And Cities Trying To Unf*ck The Police This Week?
While activists call for radical restructuring of public safety following multiple outrageous killings of African-Americans, a whole bunch of state and local governments are taking some more limited actions aimed at increasing police accountability and stopping police practices that have quite literally been killing people.
In Louisville, Kentucky, the city council passed "Breonna's Law," which bans no-knock warrants, the practice that led to the killing of Breonna Taylor in March. And in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a package of police reforms that included a ban on choke holds and repeal of a law that effectively kept all police disciplinary records hidden. Those are the two biggest recent developments, but there are other steps being passed or considered nationwide, so let's take a look at some of them, in convenient bullet-point format. We're still working on what a de-escalation list format would look like.
The Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously Thursday night to end no-knock warrants, which allow police to bust down doors without first announcing their presence, and Mayor Greg Fischer signed the law Friday. As we noted last week when House Dems introduced a ban on the warrants in federal drug cases, they've resulted in all sorts of horrors prior to now. The new law also requires that police actually turn their goddamn body cams on. The cops who shot and killed Taylor didn't have their cams turned on, nor did police in the recent killing of Louisville restaurateur David McAtee. Fischer said, "I wholeheartedly agree with Council that the risk to residents and officers with this kind of search outweigh any benefit."
The New York Times has details:
- Officers must knock on an entry door and announce they have a search warrant.
- Unless there are "exigent circumstances," they must allow a "reasonable amount of time" — at least 15 seconds —for residents a chance to open the door.
- Officers must turn on their body cams five minutes before any search and leave them on until five minutes after it's completed.
- Body cam footage must be retained at least five years.
The passage of the law is a good first step, but Louisville residents are still angry that the three officers involved in the raid on Taylor's apartment haven't been fired, disciplined, or arrested. To make matters worse, the police department released a copy of the incident report in the case that bordered on cop fan fiction:
[It] contains minimal details, listing Ms. Taylor as a victim but saying "none" under the section for victim injuries. The report, first published by The Louisville Courier-Journal, also has a check mark in the box designating "no" forced entry.
"This is unacceptable," Mayor Fischer said on Twitter of the report. "It's issues like this that erode public confidence in @LMPD's ability to do its job, and that's why I've ordered an external top-to-bottom review of the department."
So yeah, there's a ways to go in Louisville.
New York Reforms
Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed into law what he called the nation's "most aggressive" package of policing reforms, although somebody maybe should have pointed out there's entirely too much aggression in policing already. As with many state and local reforms, the package bans chokeholds, which, silly us, we thought already were banned, but now they're really banned. The biggest change in the law is a repeal of "50-a," a law that prohibited release of "all personnel records used to evaluate performance" of cops unless the officer gave permission or a judge ordered it. The New York Times 'splains why that's such a big deal:
Under [Mayor Bill] de Blasio, the New York Police Department expanded the interpretation of the law to shield the results of disciplinary hearings against individual officers, leading to criticism that the department was shrouding police abuse in secrecy. Mr. Cuomo for years remained largely noncommittal on efforts to repeal 50-a.
Criticism of the law came to a head following the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island after a police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, held him in a chokehold in 2014. Despite a lawsuit to make them public, Mr. Pantaleo's disciplinary records remained secret for years until they were leaked, revealing a long history of complaints.
By contrast, the long record of complaints against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer now charged with murdering George Floyd, quickly became available because Minnesota, like most states, doesn't protect cops' employment records.
Now if we could get police departments to actually do something about shitty cops before they kill someone, that would really be something!
In addition to repealing 50-a and making choke holds a class-C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, Cuomo signed Friday two other bills. One prohibits false race-based 911 calls, thank you very much, weird murder-courting Karen in Central Park. The other requires that when police shoot an unarmed person, the state attorney general will serve as an independent prosecutor.
The four bills Cuomo signed Friday were among a ten-bill package passed last week by the state legislature; the other bills still awaiting action include measures to
- Require police officers to report any discharge of a weapon within six hours if there's a chance anyone may have been hit.
- Require courts to track and report racial and demographic data for "all low-level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations." Police departments would have to submit annual reports on all deaths related to arrests.
- Require all state police officers to have body cams and turn them on, with clear definitions of when cams are to be turned on and off.
Elsewhere around the country
Minnesota: Following the Minneapolis City Council's pledge to eventually dismantle the police department and shift most public safety to social services, the state legislature is considering bills that would
- Allow Minneapolis and Saint Paul to require police officers actually live in the cities. Only about eight percent currently do.
- Prohibit "warrior-style training" that encourages police to treat all interactions with the public as "a threat, or potential threat, to an officer's safety."
- Ban cash bail.
Washington DC: Mayor Muriel Bowser said last week she will sign a package of measures such as
- A ban on all neck restraints
- Prohibition of "tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades" for breaking up protests; presumably this would also be very specific about what counts as "tear gas." (Not that federal forces like the Park Police would be bound by DC city regulations anyway.)
- Mandatory release of police body cam video within three days of any police use of serious or deadly force. Family members of the deceased would be the first to see the video, should they choose to.
- Require body cams, and mandate release of footage within 45 days.
- Limit when police can shoot at a fleeing suspect; cops could only use deadly force during an arrest if they or others face an "imminent threat."
- Require officers to report other cops' use of excessive force; failure to report would be a criminal offense.
- Allow lawsuits against individual cops who violate civil rights, by ending "qualified immunity."
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