States Emerge as ‘Critical’ Players in Police Reforms

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The week that Freddie Gray died in Baltimore in 2015, while the city burned and protesters demanded police reforms, legislators in Colorado met to deliver just that. They considered 10 bills, ranging from restrictions on the use of chokeholds to the collection of data on officer-involved shootings. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed five of those bills that year, followed by two more last year, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Colorado is only one example of states taking a serious look at reform amid the national debate around policing, particularly in communities of color. Over the last two years, 34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, resolutions, or executive orders that changed policing policies and practices, says the Vera Institute of Justice. That’s almost four times as many as the 20 passed between 2012 and 2014.

In recent years, it has been left to individual police departments to enact reforms, or to the U.S. Department of Justice, typically via a court-ordered “consent decree.” The emerging role of states in policing reform is critical, says Jim Bueermann of the Police Foundation and the former police chief in Redlands, Ca., because they can strike a balance between understanding local policing issues and solutions, while having the broad authority to pass laws that affect every agency in their state. “States are the sweet spot between the federal government passing laws and the 17,000 communities [with law enforcement agencies] passing laws,” says Bueermann. Reforms that legislators have passed include banning the use of chokeholds, mandating data collection on traffic stops and officer-involved shootings, developing guidelines for body-worn cameras, creating requirements for crisis intervention training, and increasing transparency in investigations into the use of lethal force.

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