higher education schools reopening covid

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia passed significant enactments in 2020 that expanded the state role in law enforcement oversight.

Legislatures Address Police Accountability

By Amber Widgery | April 21, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

In the months since George Floyd, right, was killed in Minneapolis, law enforcement accountability has moved to the top of legislative agendas.

NCSL has been tracking state law enforcement legislation since May 2020 in its legislation database.

The database contains nearly 3,000 bills introduced to address policing policy. In late 2020, most state legislatures would not normally have been in session, but COVID-related delays and the convening of special sessions enabled lawmakers to pass nearly 100 new policing-related enactments.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia passed significant enactments in 2020 that expanded the state role in law enforcement oversight, prioritizing accountability and transparency (see map above).

Significant legislation has also been enacted in 20 states and the District of Columbia in 2021 (see map above).

Several bills are currently awaiting executive action, having been approved by legislatures. More than 1,800 bills are still pending.

Changes Regarding Use of Force

Changes in the last year often have been focused on use of force and excessive force. States have:

  • Enacted use-of-force standards.
  • Required independent investigation of use-of-force incidents.
  • Created affirmative statutory duties for officers to intervene in instances of excessive force.
  • Required officers to report instances of excessive force.

Notably, at least 16 states and the District of Columbia have restricted law enforcement use of neck restraints (see map above).

Legislation has also changed disciplinary procedures and created more guidance on decertification requirements. At least one state, Maryland, has repealed its officer bill of rights.

Four states—Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Mexico—have limited officer immunity from civil suit for misconduct. An additional five states—Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia—have regulated no-knock warrants.

States have also worked to diversify officer training requirements, established data collection and publication requirements, encouraged civilian oversight of local agencies, supported officer wellness and protection measures, and funded and established additional resources for officers, including alternative responses in such instances as calls related to mental health crises.

Amber Widgery is an expert in law enforcement policy and state law.

Additional Resources