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DOJ Announces Ban on Chokeholds For Federal Officers

Since May 2020, 47 states and Washington, DC have enacted 390 new laws that address policing policy, and all 50 states and DC have collectively introduced 3,120 laws during that period but not all were enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). These laws address the proper restraint of suspects, how warrants are served, the duty of officers to intervene, and body camera requirements.

Now the Justice Department has announced that federal law enforcement officers will be banned from using neck restraints during arrests and using no-knock entries while executing warrants except in rare cases is part of an ongoing focus on police accountability at local, state, and federal levels. It’s a significant policy that addresses two aspects of police accountability for officers under federal jurisdiction, but state and local governments have already made these changes over the past two years. The use of neck restraints and no-knock warrants have resulted in high-profile in-custody deaths in recent years that have prompted calls for both techniques to be banned.

Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images

In the year and four months since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, state and local governments across the country have ramped up efforts to hold officers accountable for misconduct and prevent incidents of police brutality against citizens. Seven states, including Colorado, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, have enacted changes to qualified immunity, a controversial federal doctrine established by case law that can shield officers and other government employees from civil liability. A total of 24 states have restricted or banned the use of chokeholds and other neck restraints between May 2020 and May 2021, and 11 states have made changes to no-knock warrants in that time period, including Virginia, Illinois, and Massachusetts, according to the NCSL.

 

Several key issues have been the target of police reform efforts, including the heightened attention to the duty of officers to intervene when they see fellow officers engaged in misconduct or excessive force, more officers being equipped with body-worn cameras, restrictions on no-knock warrants, and departments moving to ban neck restraints.

The DOJ’s policy change this week, which applies to federal agents, and local and state officers serving on task forces, bans both chokeholds and “carotid restraints” except in cases where officers are authorized to use deadly force. The department acknowledged that “the use of certain physical restraint techniques — namely chokeholds and carotid restraints — by some law enforcement agencies to incapacitate a resisting suspect has too often led to tragedy.”



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