Police reform has been a focal point and a rallying cry behind months of protests after the murder of George Floyd. One year later, dozens of cities and states have made a major change that centers around the tactic used to kill Floyd.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Wisconsin have never been trained to use chokeholds, but until Floyd’s death, the defense tactic wasn’t prohibited either.
Within the past year since former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd by kneeling on his neck, several police departments across Wisconsin have updated their use of force policies to include partial bans on chokeholds.
The city of Milwaukee took it one step further by prohibiting police chokeholds altogether. Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said no exceptions are needed.
“We saw that recently, even though he was not on duty, but a law enforcement officer regardless in the case surrounding Joel Acevedo, so I think it’s important considering all of those factors, right? That it could be deadly, we don’t want interactions with law enforcement and the community to be deadly,” Johnson said.
In the past 12 months, police departments in Green Bay, Kenosha, Wauwatosa, Waukesha and West Allis, to name a few, have updated their standard operating procedures to explicitly prohibit chokeholds - except in situations where the use of deadly force is allowed by law.
West Allis Police Chief and Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association President Patrick Mitchell said chokeholds should only be used by officers when their life is in imminent danger.
“My fear and the fear of many chiefs is that they’ll use an even greater level of force," Chief Mitchell said. “I think we would all agree, a chokehold can have deadly consequences as we have seen, but the use of a chokehold is likely less deadly than the use of a firearm.”
Last summer, Gov. Tony Evers called for a new state law banning police chokeholds with no exceptions.
Seventeen states have some sort of prohibition on police chokeholds. Just Tennessee and Illinois have laws banning police from using neck restraints before Floyd was killed.
Republicans who control Wisconsin’s legislature said they’re on board with prohibiting chokeholds as long as there is a deadly force exception.
“On a statewide basis, there might be different opinions, especially in the legislature. But if we can get to a point where there is a full ban or some ban, it gets us away from where we currently are. And I think that’s progress,” Johnson said.
Chief Mitchell said the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association endorses the current bill that’s making its way through the legislature. He said cities that want the full ban on police chokeholds are welcome to do that at a local level, as Milwaukee did.
“You don’t need a statewide solution for every issue that a local unit of government can solve on their own,” he said.
Milwaukee’s Common Council passed a resolution Tuesday which signals support for a federal police reform bill that includes a ban on police chokeholds.