The Power of Protest: A Roundup of Police Reforms Across the Nation

Edited July 29 at 12 p.m. PST

The past few weeks have had a profound effect on the way in which policing is conceptualized in the U.S.—culminating, on a national level, in the unveiling of police reform legislation by congressional Democrats on June 8, and Republican counter-legislation on June 17.

But as Congress sets up for a national showdown on police reform legislation with dueling bills, it’s important to take note of reforms reflected in communities across the nation—proposed by local governments in response to pressure from protestors to change fundamentally broken systems.

Change can come in many forms, and we’ve seen a variety of different proposed solutions—from policy reforms, to re-trainings, to the promised dismantling (and potential rebuilding) of entire police departments. And with 58 percent of Americans agreeing that we need “major changes” to the way policing is done, it’s clear that this is a matter of urgency.

Here are just a few places where policing is being reimagined.

State-wide Reforms

Update: While most state legislatures remain out of session due to COVID-19, many have called special emergency sessions in response to recent protests. As of mid-June, 12 states had introduced reform bills, and three had passed them. A comprehensive search of legislative responses to policing is available here.

California: Officials like Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra have called for statewide police changes, such as a ban on chokeholds, new use-of-force standards, a prohibition on officers firing on moving vehicles and new training for police dogs. Some of these have already been addressed by the state’s legislature—SB230, which Newsom signed into law in September of 2019, amends California’s use-of-force policies.

Colorado: A police accountability bill has been signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis on June 19th. The bill deals with a wide variety of protocols, including body cameras, qualified immunity, data collection and more—and is deemed long overdue by its supporters. The bill had unanimous support from the state’s Democratic lawmakers in the Colorado House and Senate.

Connecticut: A police accountability bill has been approved by the Connecticut state Senate, after an “emotional” 10 hour debate that ended at four in the morning on Wednesday, July 29. The bill had faced pushback due to partisan debates over a “qualified immunity” provision, and opposition from Connecticut police unions.

Iowa: In June, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law a police reform bill that introduces increased accountability measures. In a rare show of unity, the bill was introduced, debated, and unanimously passed in the course of a single day.


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Massachusetts: An expansive police reform bill was passed by the Massachusetts state senate on Tuesday morning. The bill would ban chokeholds and create a “Police Officers Standards and Accreditation Committee,” among other reforms. The bill has drawn heat from police unions, who claim it could open the floodgates for lawsuits against officers, but advocates for reform argue that the bill does not go far enough. A final vote on the bill has yet to be scheduled — though with the legislature set to break for summer on July 31, the clock is ticking.

Michigan: The Michigan state Senate has unanimously passed legislature that calls for mandatory police bias training, which would focus on implicit bias and violence de-escalation tactics. However, the training requirement would not go into effect till 2022.

Minnesota: Following a recent special legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers have voted to ban chokeholds and prohibit training that “deemphasizes the value of human life or constitutional rights,” among other measures. Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, has publicly praised the bill and is expected to sign it soon, which would bring the measures into effect immediately. This bill represents a compromise between Minnesota’s highly divided state legislature, which had previously been at a stalemate due to partisan disputes.

New Jersey: New Jersey’s ongoing “Excellence in Policing” initiative—started in December 2019—calls for “a national model for strengthening trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”

New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed what he called the “most aggressive” package of reform legislation in the nation. The legislation introduces a variety of reforms. (The bill is opposed by a coalition of law enforcement unions—which wield significant power in the U.S. and have been called “roadblock[s] to reform.”)

Oregon: In a special session prompted by weeks of protests, the Oregon legislature has passed six criminal justice reform bills. Community advocates argue that it will take more than a single special session to change the way policing is done in Oregon. The legislature is now considering ideas for its next round of reform bills, which could include “blanket bans on chokeholds and tear gas.”

Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf signed two police reform bills into law on Tuesday, one of which will require officers applying to new jobs to submit previous employment records, and another which will mandate mental health evaluations and a range of use of force and cultural competency trainings.

City-level Reforms

Berkeley, Calif.: Last week, Berkeley, California became the first city in the U.S. to remove police officers from the traffic enforcement process, and replace them with unarmed personnel as a part of a reformed Department of Transportation.

Chicago: The mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, has promised reforms to the city’s police within 90 days. Proposed reforms include an increase in community-led and oriented trainings, support for officers in crisis, and more de-escalation training. In the same speech, Lightfoot declared her commitment to investing in community mental health services. However, she has not committed to cutting the department’s budget, earning her criticism from activists. Furthermore, the CPD has missed 70 percent of the deadlines for reforms mandated by last year’s consent degree, and while use of force is down, discrimination rates have not changed.

Dallas, Texas: Police officers now required to intervene when they see fellow officers using “excessive force” as part of a new “Duty to Intervene” policy. This decision was released as part of a larger plan for police reform.

Los Angeles: After significant backlash against LAPD’s use of violent tactics against protestors and widespread calls for the resignation of LAPD chief Michel Moore, Mayor Garcetti has announced his intent to cut LAPD budget and reinvest in minority communities. The city council has approved a measure to replace police responses to non-violent calls with “community-based, unarmed emergency responders.” And on a county-wide level, LA county leaders have unanimously approved an anti-racist policy agenda, joining 36 other counties nationwide who have declared racism a matter of public health.

Louisville, Ky.: The Louisville Metro council has unanimously approved “Breonna’s Law,” (named for Breonna Taylor who was killed by the Louisville Police Department in March of 2020), which would ban “no knock” warrants. The legislation also requires officers to use body cameras when serving warrants. Similar to the Minneapolis police department, the Louisville police department will also be undergoing a review by an “external, independent firm.”

Minneapolis: The Minneapolis City Council has announced its intent to disband the city’s police force and reinvest in community-led public safety initiatives, while acknowledging that “no amount of reforms will prevent lethal violence and abuse by some members of the Police Department against members of our community, especially Black people and people of color.” However, the city’s mayor and police chief are still pushing for smaller reforms, as opposed to an entire dismantling of the department.

Since the protests broke out, Minnesota has been a center of decisive political action: The state has launched a civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis police department with the ultimate goal of attempting to root out systemic inequality.

New York: Mayor Bill DeBlasio has pledged to defund the New York City police department, which has come under particular fire for its use of violent crowd control tactics against protestors in recent weeks. In a budget meeting on June 30, city officials agreed to shift $1 billion away from the police department — a decision that critics, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argue is not enough.

Pittsburgh: Several police reform bills have been approved by the Pittsburgh city council. The bills addressed issues such as re-allocation of funds towards “violence reduction and social services,” and banning chokeholds.

Richmond, Va.: Mayor Levar Stoney, in addition to a number of other reforms, has proposed a form of crisis alert dubbed the “Marcus alert,” which would help to partner cops with mental health professionals in responding to mental health crises.

San Francisco: Mayor London Breed of San Francisco announced plans similar to Garcetti’s, to direct money away from the SFPD and invest in Black communities. Her proposal also includes plans to divert non-violent calls from the SFPD to non-police community-based service providers.

In addition to concrete policy changes and proposals, many states and cities have formed commissions or working groups devoted to working towards police reform and accountability, including the state of Maryland and the city of Atlanta.

When looking at alternative models of community safety and police reform, many have cited the city of Camden, N.J., as an example of how fundamentally altering the structure of a community’s police force can decrease violent crime. Others want to push further, and argue in favor of an elimination of all forms of policing—and a radical reimagining of what community and accountability looks like.

But regardless of what change ends up looking like, the fact that governments are actually acknowledging the systemic racism inherent to policing across the country is a step in the right direction—and a validation of weeks of protests.


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About

Oliver Haug is an Editorial Intern with Ms. Magazine and a recent graduate of Smith college. Their writing has previously appeared in Autostraddle and the New York Times' newsletter "The Edit." You can read more of their work here, and follow them on twitter here.