States diverge on police reforms after Floyd killing
Maryland repealed its half-century-old Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. Washington state reformed use-of-force policies and created a new agency to investigate when officers use deadly force. And California overcame objections from police unions to make sure officers fired in one jurisdiction couldn’t be hired in another.
Those are some of the farreaching policing changes passed this year in response to the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But the first full year of state legislative sessions since his death sparked a summer of racial justice protests produced a far more mixed response in the rest of the country.
A number of states implemented incremental reforms, such as banning chokeholds or tightening rules around use of body cameras, while several Republican-led states responded by granting police even greater authority and passing laws that cracked down on protesters.
The state action on both sides of the debate came as Congress failed to implement policing reforms aimed at boosting officer accountability. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed the U.S. House without a single Republican vote and then collapsed in the evenly divided Senate.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 356,000 law enforcement officers, said he thinks it’s still possible for Congress to pass police reform, but perhaps only after another deadly case captures the nation’s attention.
“Sadly, the only thing we know for sure, it will be a tragedy that will precipitate change,” Pasco said.
He said the trend of states passing their own policing measures depending on their politics is creating more divisions in an already fractured country.
Partisan leanings were in play in Maryland, which 50 years ago became the first state to pass an officers’ bill of rights that provided job protections in the police disciplinary process, measures that eventually spread to about 20 other states. This year, it became the first to repeal those rights after lawmakers in the Democraticcontrolled General Assembly overrode the veto of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
They replaced the bill of rights with new procedures that give civilians a role in police discipline. Democratic lawmakers also united to pass other reforms over Hogan’s objections or without his signature, including expanding public access to police disciplinary records and creating a unit in the state attorney general’s office to investigate police-involved deaths.