This month, California passed three bills to improve police accountability and work to prevent police violence, joining more than a dozen other states this year to take steps to reduce police shootings and create safer communities from police violence.
Police violence is a tragic component of the gun violence epidemic — 95 percent of civilian deaths caused by police are with a firearm and every year, police in America shoot and kill more than 1,000 people. Police violence disportionately impacts Black people and people of color in the U.S. — Black people are nearly three times as likely to be shot and killed by police than white people and Latinxs are also more likely to be fatally shot by police.
“We can’t address our gun violence epidemic without addressing the police violence epidemic that kills far too many — disproportionately Black people and people of color — every year, and every day in this country,” said Monisha Henley, Senior Director of State Government Affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety. “Curbing this gun violence requires confronting the United States’ history of racism, reimagining the role of police, and implementing evidence-based policies that will prevent police gun violence before it happens. State lawmakers and community advocates from across the country continue to lead the way in passing meaningful policies to save lives. There’s more work to do and we’ll continue advocating alongside them.”
This year, a number of state legislatures including California, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Washington and Wisconsin have taken steps to address police violence by passing laws that range from limiting the use of dangerous tactics like chokeholds and no-knock warrants and requiring transparency and independent investigations of use of force incidents to eliminating qualified immunity and creating processes for officer decertification.
Importantly, several states removed long-standing barriers to holding officers accountable for misconduct or abuse of authority. Maryland repealed its “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights,” a set of laws that for decades has hindered efforts to hold officers who abuse their authority accountable. New Mexico repealed qualified immunity and California eliminated key kinds of immunity, giving citizens the right to seek justice and file lawsuits when police officers violate their rights.
There is more state lawmakers can do to save lives from police violence and Moms Demand Action volunteers will continue to advocate for meaningful policy changes to reduce police violence.
Some highlights from 2021:
- SB 2, legislation to eliminate key kinds of immunity and increase accountability for law enforcement officers through a decertification process for when misconduct has occurred and
- AB 490, legislation to expand the current ban on chokeholds by police officers.
- SB 715, to ensure independent investigations of police violence.
- SB 147 would create a statewide Use of Force standard which requires a “reasonableness” evaluation of a law enforcement officer’s actions in determining whether the amount of force used is justified and would include the use of a chokehold into the definition of “deadly force”
- SB 148 is awaiting the governor’s signature and would expand the responsibilities of the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust to require the Division to investigate all law enforcement officer use of force incidents which result in serious physical injury.
- HB 1006 which requires de-escalation training, creates a penalty for officers who turn body cameras off with intent to conceal, and eases the ability to share officers’ previous employment records between police departments.
- SB4, a bipartisan bill to significantly limit the use of no-knock search warrants and put safeguards in place to mitigate the dangers they create.
- The state legislature overrode the Governor’s veto to pass the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 which:
- Repeals Maryland’s so-called Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a set of laws that for decades has hindered efforts to hold officers who abuse their authority accountable.
- Establishes a new system for the investigation and imposition of discipline for cases of officer misconduct, one that includes strong civilian oversight and ensures a system that is transparent, accessible and consistent across the state. It also requires independent investigations into all killings of civilians by police officers.
- Ensures that records relating to police misconduct are accessible to the public, provides early intervention systems for officers whose behavior indicates they might pose a risk of violence, prevents state law enforcement agencies from obtaining military surplus equipment, and provides counseling and employee assistance services for law enforcement officers.
- A public safety omnibus that included provisions to:
- Regulate and collect data on the use of “no knock” warrants
- Expand data collection to improve data on officer misconduct and to allow the POST board to develop an effective early warning system, which will flag officers with problematic conduct
- Encourage the use of alternative dispatch which allow mental health professionals to respond to emergencies involving people experiencing a crisis
New Mexico passed:
- HB 4, which repealed qualified immunity giving citizens the right to seek justice and file lawsuits when police officers violate their rights.
Washington passed several police accountability bills into law, including:
- HB 1054, prohibits the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers, no-knock warrants, and restricts the police acquisition of military equipment from the federal government.
- HB 1089, authorizes the state auditor to make sure use-of-force investigations comply with the law.
- HB 1267, creates an Office of Independent Investigations within the Office of the Governor who is charged with investigating police use of force incidents. The bill also establishes a new independent process that includes civilians in investigations into police conduct and will help promote accountability and ensure that investigations are complete and free from bias.
- SB 5051, gives the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission additional powers and oversight authority. The bill also improves rules for officer certification, makes improvements that will ensure transparency, and ensures that law enforcement officers with a history of misconduct cannot avoid accountability by moving to other law enforcement jobs.
- SB 5259, requires data collection and analysis on police use of force incidents in Washington. Currently, the existing data on police use of force is insufficient and makes it difficult for researchers to analyze excessive force and for policymakers to effectively evaluate the need for change.
- SB 123, which would require the Wisconsin Department of Justice to collect data and publish an annual report on use of force incidents by law enforcement, including when there is a shooting, if a firearm is discharged in the direction of a person, and whether serious bodily harm resulted from the incident.
- SB 120, which sets a statewide use of force policy and allows deadly force only as a “last resort.” It also establishes a duty to intervene to prevent excessive use of force and a duty to report violations of the policy. The law also protects whistleblowers who report noncompliant use of force.