Last Saturday, a bill to restrict law enforcement activities and their use of equipment passed out of the state House of Representatives on a partisan 54-43 vote, with most Republicans opposing the measure.
House Bill 1054 would prohibit police from using chokeholds and neck restraints. It would also place a ban on police agencies from acquiring military equipment, and require all uniformed officers to wear easily seen identification. The bill would end “no-knock” warrants.
Before Republican pressure and amendments, the original bill went so far as to ban the use of police dogs and tear gas. Still, even with the amendments, Republicans turned their noses up against HB 1054.
I can get behind the ban on using a chokehold, where an officer intentionally uses direct pressure to a person’s windpipe to restrict air flow. Neck restraint is where pressure is applied to the neck to constrict blood flow. That also is inappropriate.
In appeasing the Republicans, the Democrats have included a criminal justice training commission to come up with a model policy for the training and use of K-9s. The commission would be composed of various police accountability activists and police agency personnel. The commission would be tasked with finishing its model policy by Jan. 1, 2022.
That is a reasonable request.
HB 1054 also tackles the use of tear gas only when there is the risk of serious harm via a riot, barricaded subject or hostage. Tear gas could only be used if all other tactics have been exhausted. That seems reasonable, but I would like to hear more pros and cons on the issue.
The bill would also ban police agencies from acquiring and using military equipment “such as firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater, machine guns, armed helicopters, armed or armored drones, armed vessels, armed vehicles, armed aircraft, tanks, mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, long range acoustic hailing devices, rockets, rocket launchers, bayonets, grenades, missiles, directed energy systems, and electromagnetic spectrum weapons.”
That also seems somewhat reasonable, but with our country on edge these days, I could make a case for urban police agency SWAT teams to acquire some limited military equipment.
Another aspect of HB 1054 would regulate police and car chases. Limited allowable chases would include going after a car where someone is suspected of committing a violent or sex offense; if the officer has received authorization to pursue a vehicle from a supervising officer; and the firing of a weapon at a car only if persons in the car were threatening with a deadly weapon.
That seems reasonable, except for the requirement to get authorization from a supervisor before the pursuit. That just doesn’t seem prudent when a known, dangerous criminal comes speeding by.
The bill also would allow police to break open a door or window in a building but only after giving prior notice.
I understand the controversial nature of police activity in this day and age, but it is key to not limit our police officers as they pursue criminals and try to keep the peace.
I remember driving home from The Chronicle years ago. Just a few blocks from the newsroom, traffic was stopped. I saw a man running toward my car. He tripped over a sidewalk and flew onto a lawn. A K-9 was close behind and pounced on the man. It was quite effective.
Stories of K-9s going into the bushes after a fleeing person, or searching a building for a burglar or robber, also is effective and protects the officer in many instances.
I also remember, back when I was a police reporter, covering a case where city police chased after a stolen truck. The officer in pursuit knew it was driven by a 13-year-old boy. The pursuit hit speeds of about 100 mph, which was against agency policy. The kid crashed the truck, rolling it. The boy died. There are times when limits do make sense.
But we need to be careful as a society when we place regulations on police. The job is difficult and dangerous. They place their lives at risk to keep us safe. When we need an officer, be it a robbery, domestic violence or the like, we want our police to be able to quickly do their job.
If a cop is bad, there needs to be oversight and consequences, and the practice of police covering for police has to end.
All professions, from journalists to accountants to police, have a small percentage of bad apples. But placing unnecessary limits on police is an overreach, an overreaction and does not make sense.
We do owe it to our officers to ensure they have the proper training and approved equipment to resolve testy situations, but it is inevitable that problems will occur when police have to make split-second decisions in highly heated moments dealing with life and death, time after time.
The idea that the original language of the bill would ban K-9s and the use of tear gas is off base. Kudos to the House Republicans that lobbied to delete those parts of the bill.
The basic need of a civilized society is a safe community. Too often lately that has been subordinated to attempts to place unnecessary limits on police. If we can’t be safe in our own cities and towns and rural areas, nothing else much matters.
No matter your views on this issue, you can make your voice heard. HB1054 is now in the state Senate and is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Law and Justice at 10:30 a.m. this coming Thursday.
Michael Wagar is a former president, publisher and editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.