In wake of Brown, Garner cases: States reevaluate the roles and power of police

Chokeholds, local prosecutors at issue

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Just weeks after grand juries declined to indict cops for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, states across the country are reevaluating the techniques officers use to police others and the role they have in policing themselves.

The New York City police inspector general released a report Monday that found several cases where officers had used chokeholds, a banned maneuver for more than two decades in the state. In some instances, the report found, the tactic was being used as the officer’s first move to apprehend a suspect following verbal resistance.

Police training consultant Ronnie Frigulti told DecodeDC earlier that chokeholds, or carotid restraints, have a history of being applied incorrectly and should be avoided.

The same cases reviewed in the inspector general report were analyzed in another report a year ago that found the New York City Police Department had eased its interpretation of the ban on chokeholds overtime. Monday’s study also found that disciplinary action for breaking the ban was minimal. It further promised that a broader investigation into alleged improper use of force by officers — such as patterns of low-level arrests, summonses, surveillance of religious and political groups and police encounters with those with mental illnesses — would be forthcoming. In fact the association between race, chokeholds and excessive force has a long history, with one major case dating back to the ‘80s that rose all the way to the Supreme Court.

Across the country state lawmakers also are determining whether leaving it up to local prosecutors to charge police officers for suspect deaths is ethically sound. California and New Jersey are looking to follow in the footsteps of precedent-setting Wisconsin, which last year mandated independent probes for officer-involved fatalities. A new Missouri bill would require local prosecutors to bring in outside investigators and prosecutors in similar cases and a bill in Colorado also might be forthcoming.

The idea of removing officers and closely linked prosecutors from cases involving cops stems from groundbreaking legislation in Wisconsin that passed after police in Kenosha fatally shot an unarmed 21-year-old white male, Michael Bell, following a traffic stop in 2014. An earlier DecodeDC podcast did a deep dive on the case and its implications.

[Also by Miranda Green: Gov buildings in need of enhanced security]

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