Two police reform bills — one that would ban police from using chokeholds to restrain suspects and another requiring all municipal law enforcement departments to adopt policies outlining use of force — received unanimous approval Wednesday in the state Senate and are now poised for a vote in the state House.
These bills, intended to protect all citizens who become engaged with police, should remain on a fast track through the entire legislative process and be signed into law.
Senate Bill 1205 would prohibit all law enforcement personnel in Pennsylvania from using chokeholds or any other form of positional asphyxia unless they were in a situation in which deadly force would be justified.
“While chokeholds have been banned by many departments, this has not stopped their use,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia County, wrote in a memo to fellow lawmakers, noting that restraints such as these caused the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Eric Garner in New York City.
Street said the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association forbids these restraints for all accredited departments, but only 118 of more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania are accredited.
The 11 members of the Law and Justice Committee also unanimously endorsed Senate Bill 459, which would require municipal law enforcement departments to adopt use-of-force policies, train each officer on procedures, and report all use-of-force incidents to the state.
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, said minimum requirements of the policy include criteria for initiating the use of force, the severity of the crime at issue, the immediacy of the threat posed by a suspect and other safety factors. The police also must define the roles of all personnel within the department’s chain of command.
The legislation also would require all police departments to report incidents involving the use of force to the state and it mandates that the state police publish an annual report on the number of incidents and the results of those encounters.
Sunbury Police Chief Brad Hare discussed the importance of the city’s policies and standards on the use of force during a recent City Council meeting and vowed that his department will continue to follow them.
As we wrote in this space after that meeting, clarity, transparency and accountability relating to any use of force are essential in protecting the rights of all citizens who find themselves in an interaction with police or law enforcement personnel and provide the ability to call out police brutality any time it occurs.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.