Senate panel unanimously passes ban on police chokeholds

    Protests erupted around the country in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    As protesters across the state continue to call for racial justice and police reforms, a Pennsylvania state Senate panel on Monday advanced a bill that prohibits police from using chokeholds against people in their custody.

    The measure sponsored by Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, won unanimous approval from the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday evening. But it still needs to be approved by the full Senate and the state before it can land on Gov. Wolf’s desk. 

    If it becomes law, it will ban police officers in Pennsylvania from using any physical maneuvers that restrict someone’s ability to breathe while they’re being incapacitated. 

    “These techniques are not consistent with good policing,” Street said during the committee meeting Monday. “These kinds of broad reforms are needed in response to the public outcry that we’ve seen after the murder of George Floyd,” the man who died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last month. 

    The Law and Justice Committee also unanimously approved a bill from Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, requiring each of the 1,100 law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania to adopt written policies governing the use of physical force by their officers. 

    Pennsylvania state law grants officers wide discretion in when they can deploy force against civilians. Some law enforcement agencies adopt their own use-of-force policies, but they do not have to post those policies publicly or disclose them to the state. 

    Costa’s bill lays out broad guidelines for these policies, and requires police departments to keep records of all incidents in which an officer uses force and to report such incidents to the Pennsylvania State Police. 

    The State Police, in turn, must publish an annual report with the data it collects from law enforcement agencies Pennsylvania, including tallies of how many police incidents led to serious injury or death.

    The Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission, which certifies police officers statewide, must also approve each agency’s policy and report to the State Police which departments have failed to adopt one. 

    The committee votes represent the first actions that the Senate has taken to regulate policing tactics and accountability since Pennsylvania erupted in protests after Floyd’s death in late May. 

    A state House committee passed four reform bills last week, including one measure that increases professional development requirements for officers and another that creates a private, statewide database of police personnel files. 

    Those bills are expected to receive floor votes in the House this week.

    How police accountability works in Pennsylvania