George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020. Since that day, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation addressing some aspect of policing policy, largely focused on accountability and oversight.
NCSL tracked more than 3,000 bills that worked their way through state legislatures across the nation, with nearly 250 of those bills being signed into law.
Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia enacted legislation immediately following Floyd’s death. In a normal year, most states would have been out of session by May. But due to the pandemic, states were able to take up legislation working within COVID-19-related session delays, through multiple special session convenings or through bipartisan cooperation. Significant legislation has also been enacted in 23 states so far in 2021. (See maps below.)
Accountability, Standards, Oversight
Trends in enacted legislation in the last 12 months have focused on accountability, statewide standards and oversight.
Nine states mandated the use of police body cameras in some capacity. Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New Mexico each enacted broad statewide mandates. New York and Vermont laws required body camera use by state law enforcement agencies, and Kentucky and Maryland passed laws requiring activation when executing warrants.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have addressed neck restraints by creating criminal penalties for their use, prohibiting or restricting their use to when deadly force would otherwise be authorized.
In addition to neck restraints, states more broadly addressed use of force by creating statewide standards and guidance. Utah SB 106, for example, requires the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council to establish statewide minimum use-of-force standards and conduct an annual review of those standards.
Colorado SB 217 takes a different approach, specifying a new use-of-force standard in statutory text. The law requires verbal warnings prior to use of deadly force and limits when deadly force and physical force are authorized.
States have also addressed training, including prohibitions on certain types, including “warrior-style” training, which can encourage aggressive conduct by peace officers during encounters with others, or training on neck restraints. New training requirements have included de-escalation techniques, communicating with vulnerable populations and implementation of new use-of-force standards.
Officer well-being and safety policies were adopted in a handful of states. Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana and South Dakota are among states that addressed critical incident debriefings or access to traumatic event counseling. New York enacted legislation creating a work group to report on trauma-informed care for frontline workers, including law enforcement. Utah established a grant program to provide mental health resources for first responders.
Toward Greater Transparency
Legislatures pursued more independent and transparent investigations, including after use-of-force incidents. Colorado and Virginia empowered their attorneys general to investigate and pursue civil pattern and practice suits. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Virginia and Washington recently authorized state officials, usually attorneys general, to investigate, audit or prosecute certain incidents.
Colorado, Nevada, New York and Virginia have new legal duties requiring officers to provide medical assistance or aid to individuals. States also created statutory duties to intervene in excessive force or report excessive force.
Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Mexico made it easier for victims of civil rights violations to recover damages in state court. The new laws created or expanded state causes of action and limited immunity defenses. Colorado and New Mexico specifically limited qualified immunity.
Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia each enacted legislation regulating or restricting the use of no-knock warrants.
Misconduct was addressed in legislation that increased transparency and provided more guidance on decertification. Colorado, Oregon and Washington state passed laws requiring publicly available databases with information on officer discipline or decertification. Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Vermont and Virginia were among the states that lifted confidentiality requirements for disciplinary records, made records publicly accessible or otherwise made it possible for agencies to share certain employment information with other law enforcement agencies.
There are more than 1,400 bills still pending or awaiting executive action for 2021. As legislative sessions in many states begin to wrap up for the year, more information on trends and enactments will be available on NCSL’s website.
Amber Widgery is an expert in law enforcement policy and state law.