Senate Votes to Prohibit Police Chokeholds, Improve Use of Force Training and Reporting

Harrisburg – The Pennsylvania Senate this week approved legislation aimed at supporting good policing practices in commonwealth communities, according to Senator John DiSanto (Dauphin/Perry).

The action followed two days of public hearings held last week on ensuring accountability and equality in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

“To ensure transparency, build trust with residents and provide solid data for policy analysis, Pennsylvania needs police departments to report use-of-force incidents, and we must compile accurate numbers statewide,” DiSanto said. “Every police agency must adopt an appropriate, publicly available use of force policy that is part of officer training and consistently enforced by department leadership. Many police departments follow best practices and maintain broad community support, and that’s what all should strive for.”

The Senate approved Senate Bill 459, which provides law enforcement agencies with record keeping and reporting requirements regarding the use of force and deadly force by law enforcement officers. It also requires a statewide report to be compiled annually on use-of-force incidents.

The chamber also approved Senate Bill1205, which prohibits the use of chokeholds except in situations when the use of deadly force is permitted. A chokehold is defined as “a physical maneuver that restricts an individual’s ability to breathe for the purposes of incapacitation.”

The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a use of force policy and to train officers on procedures allowed under the policy. 

The Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission will be required to certify the adoption of the use of force policies and to report to the Pennsylvania State Police which departments have and have not adopted these policies.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee also took action on policing reform bills. House Bill 1910 requires the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission to develop in-service training, including annual instruction on the use of force, de-escalation, and harm reduction techniques. House Bill1841 requires law enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough background investigation of police officer job candidates, and creates an electronic database of law enforcement officers who have demonstrated documented patterns of excessive use of force or other misconduct.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also voted to send House Bill 256 to the full Senate for consideration after amending it to include language that expands Pennsylvania’s definition of institutional sexual assault to include law enforcement officers and any person in the officer’s custody. The bill also improves safety for Department of Corrections staff and the public and provides tougher penalties on inmates who assault prison staff.

The bills considered today in the committees could receive consideration by the full Senate as early as next week. Senate Bill 459 and Senate Bill 1205 were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.  

 

CONTACT: Chuck Erdman cerdman@pasen.gov (717) 787-6801