New Policy in the US in 2021: Police reform law soon to take effect
Photo: Reuters

Police reform

As people took to the streets to demand an end to violence against Black people at the hands of law enforcement, communities attempted to address some of the underlying challenges in a number of ways. In Connecticut, law enforcement departments must take steps to better represent the communities they serve - a provision that's part of a broader police accountability bill passed in the state last summer. Units have been tasked with recruiting more diverse candidates to their ranks through mentorship programs, community outreach, and affirmative action policies. Departments will also have to report their efforts each year to the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, a body whose makeup is also set to change.

Additionally, officers in Connecticut who make arrests or regularly interact with the public now have to prominently display their badges and name tags on their uniforms. All officers in the state will have to undergo a behavioral health screening every five years. In Missouri, law enforcement officers will have to undergo an hour of training each year on recognizing implicit bias and de-escalating conflicts, CNN cited.

Generally, several parts of the state’s police reform bill are taking effect Jan. 1, which include:

(1) Requiring departments that serve minority communities

(2) Reporting efforts to recruit diverse officers

(3) Changing the makeup of the Police Officer Standards and Training Council — some say is too heavily made up of small-town chiefs

(4) Requiring officers to wear a badge in a prominent place — with exceptions for undercover operations

(5) Requiring officers to undergo mental health screenings every five years, but not all at once.

New Policy in the US in 2021: Police reform law soon to take effect
Photo: USA Today

Airport security

Your old driver's license might not be enough to get you through airport security next time you fly. A security law that was passed after the 9/11 attacks is finally set to go into effect this October, after being delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting October 1, travelers will need a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, US passport, US military ID, or other acceptable identification to board a commercial aircraft in the US.

A REAL ID is marked by a star on the top of the card. It was born out of the federal REAL ID Act, which established minimum security standards for the issuing of state licenses and their production. Under that act, federal agencies are prohibited from accepting licenses from states not meeting those minimum standards for certain activities. The Department of Homeland Security extended the deadline for states to comply with REAL ID requirements last year so that leaders could focus their efforts on the coronavirus pandemic.

Police accountability law

While several provisions of the Act Concerning Police Accountability, which was passed the summer, have already gone into effect, more changes are coming. Starting Jan. 1, officers who make arrests or interact with the public on a daily basis must also prominently display their badge and name tag on the outermost layer of their uniform. Every officer must submit to a behavioral health assessment every five years, performed by a board-certified psychiatrist or psychologist experienced in diagnosing and treating traumatic stress disorder, to their unit leader.

According to WTNH, the Hartford Courant reports changes to the membership structure of the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) council will change as well. The overall number of members will increase to 21 (adding the Connecticut State Police Academy’s commanding officer), gubernatorial appointments will be reduced from 17 to 11, and six legislative appointments will be added. Efforts to recruit, retain, and promote minority police officers must be reported to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

New Policy in the US in 2021: Police reform law soon to take effect
Photo: The Register

Ban the use of chokeholds by police officers

The City of Minneapolis will ban the use of chokeholds by police officers under an agreement with the state Human Rights Department. The pact outlines interim police reform measures in advance of a long-term state civil rights probe stemming from the death of George Floyd. The City Council is expected to approve the agreement, which will be enforceable in court, on Friday, reports CBS Minnesota.

The interim agreement also requires officers to intervene if they see another officer using any unauthorized use of force — including chokeholds or neck restraints — or be subject to the same discipline as if they had engaged in the violation themselves.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced this week that the Minnesota Human Rights Department is investigating whether the Minneapolis Police Department has a pattern of discriminating against people of color. As calls for police reform resound across the nation in the wake of Floyd's death, officials in Minnesota have promised the state investigation will lay the groundwork for meaningful change. While advocates hail the move to "open the books" on the department and pinpoint needed policy and practice changes, they say addressing racism within the ranks will require intense scrutiny of the department's culture, said CBS.

New hate crime bills

Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan unveiled a new version of a hate crimes bill in the Georgia Senate on Wednesday that would mean perpetrators of bias crimes could be charged separately with a hate crime under state law. Some leaders from the House, however, pushed for their version of the bill and noted that because the legislative session is nearly over, Duncan's plan jeopardizes the effort to pass any bill at all. Georgia is one of four states in the country without a hate crime law, which in other states typically take the form of sentencing enhancements. Advocates and lawmakers have renewed their push to enact a hate crime law in Georgia after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man pursued by two white men and shot dead while jogging through a Brunswick neighborhood on February 23.

The new version would add additional protected categories for victims, including those targeted because of their culture, because of their sex, because they are experiencing homelessness, or because of their status of having served in the Armed Forces, the status of participating in civil rights activities, or status of exercising First Amendment rights. And, it would require a standardized reporting mechanism for hate crimes in the state. Even small changes to the house bill would require a new vote in the statehouse, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where it may face new objections from conservatives. Democrats questioned the timing of the new Senate version of the bill and raised concerns that with only nine days left in the session, its passage this year could be in jeopardy.

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