We looked at protester demands from across the nation and compared them with recent police reforms.

Protesters have made their demands clear, and cities are starting to respond. But is it enough?
July 20, 2020
Karina Zaiets, Janie Haseman, and Veronica Bravo
USA Today

In the 18 days after the death of George Floyd, 16 states introduced, amended, or passed various police-reform bills.

We looked at what protesters are asking for and what changes have actually been implemented. While a handful of new policies met demands, most local officials and law enforcement agencies failed to fulfill expectations.  

Defunding law enforcement

Lentory Johnson knows what "defund the police" means to her — and she has a perspective based on a deeply personal experience.

Her son, Johnny Johnson, was one of three men killed in a drive-by shooting outside the Boys & Girls Club in Rochester, New York, in 2015. She worked closely with police and prosecutors during the extensive investigation as they rounded up the men they believed responsible for the mass shooting.

For Johnson, "defunding" does not mean abolition of the police, she said. Instead, she said, it is a "reallocation of funds that would mean, quite simply, other ways to invest that money to give back to communities that have very much been impacted by abusive policing or over-policing."

Defunding law enforcement is a dominant theme of protesters’ policy demands. from small towns to large cities like Washington, DC. And New York, where protesters have been camping outside City Hall in Lower Manhattan for over a week, demanding that the City Council reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council speaker, Corey Johnson, had agreed in principle to cut $1 billion from the Police Department’s $6 billion operating budget. The city decided to cancel the planned hiring of roughly 1,160 officers, and to shift responsibility for illegal vending, the homeless, and school safety away from the police.

Many protesters are asking to divest money from the police and toward organizations that support Black communities.

Dozens of Black community leaders have signed a petition to Louisville's elected officials. A 20-page "A Path Forward for Louisville" was signed by more than 60 predominantly Black representatives from local faith organizations, nonprofits, social groups, and public schools. The actions laid out in the petition include divesting in the Louisville Metro Police Department and creating a $50 million "Black Community Fund" that could be spent on affordable housing, small business support, and mental health care.

The council committee has amended the mayor’s budget, reassigning $1.2 million of Louisville Metro Police Department funding to programs that focus on homelessness and mental health. LMPD’s annual budget is $190.5 million.

A majority of Seattle City Council members have said they agree with a high-level proposal by advocates to defund the Police Department by 50% and reallocate the dollars to other community needs.

"Poder in Action", a non-profit that hosted allies in Phoenix to demand a 25% cut in local police funding and moving the money from the police into programs that create safe and healthy communities. The council has not agreed to consider that proposal. However, the council included nearly $3 million in the city budget for a new police oversight office.

De-escalation policies

Nicole Smith, a 21-year-old La Quinta, California, resident, organized a gathering there, and another in Rancho Mirage.  She described family members and acquaintances being killed by police and  being profiled because of her Chevrolet Malibu's tinted windows, which she said some view as a feature fit only for a “drug-dealer car.”

“I’m tired of my people dying for nothing,” Smith said into a megaphone. “It’s time to break the silence and it’s time to end the violence.”

The requirement to de-escalate situations where possible is one of the policies proposed by the "8 Can’t Wait" campaign. Campaign Zero, which emerged from the police protests in Ferguson, Missouri, has come up with the eight reforms that could be implemented quickly and would cost no money. This policing reform agenda is aimed at the reduction of police violence and killings. 

Faith Life Church in Tallahassee, Florida, has created an online petition to get the Tallahassee Police Department to create and enforce de-escalation policies. In just two days, the petition initiated by Faith Life Church has gained more than 1,500 signatures. In response, city commissioners approved the creation of a citizen-led police review board — despite critics saying it's an ineffective way to provide accountability and oversight.

Duty to intervene

Duty to intervene is also a priority of the '8 Can't Wait' campaign. Many cities around the country have begun to implement the requirement that officers intervene to stop excessive force being used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor. Now, police officers in Dallas, San Jose, and Atlanta, among many other smaller cities, are legally required to intervene. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has urged police departments in her state to enact duty to intervene policies. In North Carolina, at least four cities either have added, or have promised to create similar policies.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, has added duty to intervene to their policies as well. Failure to stop excessive force will result in disciplinary action. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officers can face criminal prosecution for not intervening.

George Floyd died after now-fired Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers didn’t intervene. Minneapolis police added a “duty to intervene” policy in 2016.

Changes to training or curriculum

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, protesters called for sensitivity training and psychological vetting for officers, among other demands. Newnan, Georgia, has formed s task force called Citizens for Positive Reform that has made several proposals. The group has been calling for a cultural sensitivity training course taught by a person of color, and other reforms. There have been no updates to the education or training policies for police officers in those cities since the start of the protests.

A policing reform bill passed in Washington, D.C., will require officers to undergo further training to combat racism and white supremacy. The New York City Council’s Public Safety Committee has passed a bill calling for a review system to track and identify cops who might need more training, monitoring or reassignment. The Albany Police Department will require teaching the history of racism in the United States to its members. In Syracuse, officers will be trained on the history of racism in their city, and the United States.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to encourage changes in policing. Trump said the Justice Department would prioritize federal grants to police departments that follow “the highest training standards regarding the use of force.” 

Restrictions related to protests

At least twelve financial claims have been filed by those injured, or by the families of those killed in Seattle protests. They allege excessive force by police and their failure to secure the safety of peaceful protesters. A temporary ban on using tear gas, pepper spray, and flash-bang devices to break up largely peaceful protests has expired after being enacted be a judge last month.

In Chicago, more than 900 complaints were filed against police officers between May 26 — the date of the first protest after the murder of Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota — and June 29, reaching record levels. According to a report published by Chicago Civilian Office of Police Accountability, 413 complaints were directly related to the protests between May 29 and June 5. Of those, the top complaints were for excessive force (55%), improper searches (22%), and verbal abuse by officers (11%.)

Last year, a federal judge approved the consent decree to reform the Chicago Police Department addressing accountability and use of force, among other issues. One year later, he city has missed more than 70% of the deadlines set.

One petitions circulating in Fort Worth, Texas, seeks to demilitarize police forces by removing access to rifles, shotguns, riot gear, and tanks. One protest crowd in St. Petersburg, Florida. called for the ban of less lethal weapons used by law enforcement such as tear gas and rubber bullets.

The San Jose Police Department has been criticized for using tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray on Black Lives Matter protesters. The SJPD has since announced a package with policy changes. When addressing agitators within a crowd, projectile impact weapons will now only be used in situations where a person is actively attacking an officer or another person, or when an armed agitator poses a threat to officers or other peaceful protesters.

Reporting requirements

The call for comprehensive reporting was put forward by "8 Can’t Wait" as well. It includes requiring officers to report each time they use any type of force, threaten to use force against civilians, and whenever they point a firearm at someone.

According to a study published in 2017, agencies that require officers to report every time they draw their weapons have significantly lower rates of fatal shootings by police. The Denver Police Department has recently changed its policies to require officers to alert supervisors any time they point a gun at someone, not just when they fire a weapon. In East Lansing, Michigan, officers will now be required to report when another officer is using excessive force.

In sA coalition of 14 groups who have been protesting police brutality since the death of George Floyd has made nine demands for police reform in Syracuse, New York. Prohibiting officers from reviewing body camera footage when writing their reports was one of the requirements. So far, Mayor Ben Walsh has signed into law a package of police reforms aimed at updating police training and policies and improving transparency without addressing reporting. The legislation recently implemented in Washington, D.C,. will forbid officers from watching that footage before writing their report.

Transparency measures

Domari Greene, 30, organized the protest in Elmira, New York, where a crowd of about 50 stood outside the Elmira Police Department chanting — at times in the rain —  "No justice, no peace," and "Black lives matter," to peacefully demonstrate after the death of George Floyd. Greene also helped to organize a march in nearby Corning, New York.

"The message we’re sending out is that not only is the African-American community tired of the unjust killings and racism, but people across the nation are also tired of this," Greene said Friday. "We’ve had enough and no more will officers get away for their crimes, no more just a suspension."

Creating a board overseeing the police and implementing other measures to increase transparency and accountability were some of the most voiced demands around the country. For example, the People's Justice Project, a non-profit grassroots organization in Columbus, Ohio, released a set of 10 demands May 30. Among them is the creation of a city-funded independent entity empowered to fully participate in the investigations involving city police officers. Accountability and transparency were two of the demands from social justice group De-Escalate Ohio Now.

The city council in Columbus has held public hearings on police reforms, going through more than 800 emails and texts submitted by the public as well as listening in on some 70 oral comments during a six-hour committee meetings.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther has created a working group to establish a citizens review board over police that would have subpoena power. He wants to have the board in place by the end of the year.

In Louisville, protesters' top demands are for the three officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death to be fired and prosecuted. 

“If they lock those officers up, it’ll be a start,” said Montez Jones, a Louisville protester. 

Only one of the officers, Brent Hankison, has been fired so far. Mayor Fischer has  announced other changes to ensure “more scrutiny, transparency and accountability,” including the naming of a new police chief; a new requirement that body cameras always be worn during the execution of search warrants; and the establishment of a civilian review board for police disciplinary matters.

On June 12, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the repeal of a  provision, passed in 1976, that has allowed law enforcement to shield police misconduct records from the public. Many grassroots advocacy campaigns, including Communities United for Police Reform, have pushed for the change for years.

Women Occupy San Diego, an advocacy organization formed after months-long protests in 2011, partnered with the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, an African American legal association. They have for years pushed for an independent Commission on Police Practices. In the wake of the protests, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to put a measure before voters in November. 

There were demands for the use of body cameras in some cities, as in some places many officers and police cars aren't equipped with cameras. For example, the police cars in Syracuse, New York, do not have dashboard cameras. One of the reforms Walsh signed into law includes securing more body-worn cameras for patrol officers and equipping every squad car with a dashboard camera. 

In Shreveport, Louisiana, protesters called for requiring body and dash cameras for each officer and their vehicle. Palm Springs, California, has adopted the funding of $850,000 in police body cameras after protesters' demands.

One of the demands of the petition that already received more than a million signatures is a bill that requires all police departments in this country be investigated by democratically elected, independent civilian review boards. They should have the power to investigate police, and also bring charges against police. Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, has started the petition.

Ban on chokeholds

Stopping the use of chokeholds and all other neck restraints by police officers is another item on the "8 Can't Wait" list. Several cities and municipalities in the United States have starting to ban or have banned the use of chokeholds and other neck restraints in policing. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed police in the state to stop training officers to use "carotid holds," and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said he wants police across the state to restrict the use of chokeholds. The police departments in Denver and San Diego have stopped using chokeholds. City councils banned the use of chokeholds in Minneapolis, Iowa City and Seattle. Many other cities have also stopped the use of neck restraints by the officers. However, an NPR review of bans on neck restraints in some of the nation's largest police departments found them largely ineffective and subject to lax enforcement.

Other policy changes

Many protesters around the nation asked for addressing systemic racism. Some have been asking for a residency requirement for police officers to increase diversity. Such a change has been implemented in Philadelphia. There were many calls for preventing the police from handling non-violent situations. In Albuquerque New Mexico, Mayor Tim Keller announced the creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department that will serve as a civilian public safety branch to dispatch trained professionals to non-violent 911 calls.

Many communities around the country have been demanding the resignation of local officials. Protesters want local mayors to resign in St. Louis; Lansing, Michigan; and Buffalo, New York, among other cities.  

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