Home Posts Despite Calls For Defunding And Accountability, Some Republican States Give Police More Power.
Despite Calls For Defunding And Accountability, Some Republican States Give Police More Power.
Police Reform

Despite Calls For Defunding And Accountability, Some Republican States Give Police More Power.


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After a year of protests against police brutality, some Republican-controlled states have ignored or blocked police-reform proposals, instead moving in the opposite direction by giving officers more powers, making it more difficult to discipline them, and expanding their authority to crack down on protests.

The GOP measures were introduced in response to the nationwide protests that erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd's death, and they cited the disturbances and destruction that swept through major U.S. cities last summer, including Portland, New York, and Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed by police.

“We have to strengthen our laws when it comes to mob violence, to make sure individuals are unequivocally dissuaded from committing violence in large groups,” Florida state Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Republican, said during a hearing for an anti-riot bill that was enacted in April.

This year, Florida is one of the few states to both expand police authority and pass reforms: a separate bill awaiting action by the governor would require additional use-of-force training and require officers to intervene if another officer uses excessive force.

According to an Associated Press review of legislation, states where lawmakers resisted the police-reform movement included Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation Thursday that expands qualified immunity for police officers and strengthens protester penalties, including making rioting a felony.

“This is about protecting law enforcement and providing them with the tools they need to keep our communities safe, as well as showing them that we have their back,” said state Rep. Jarad Klein, a bill sponsor.

Despite Republican governors and legislative leaders' promises last summer to end discriminatory police behavior and implement other criminal-justice reforms, the bill was approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

At the start of the 2021 legislative session, Reynolds introduced legislation to prohibit police racial profiling and to establish a system for tracking racial data on police stops, both of which were recommended by a task force appointed by the governor in November 2019.

Instead, Republican lawmakers omitted those amendments and pushed through the new legislation.

Reynolds acknowledged that she does not always get what she wants, even from her own party, and said she intends to reintroduce the legislation next year.

Reform supporters were disappointed by the Iowa Republicans' quick reversal.

“Would it have been too difficult to do the right thing?” Democratic state Rep. Ras Smith asked during a bill floor debate. “You decided to make this an either-or, to trample on freedom, to show support for law enforcement in ways that they didn’t even ask for.”

Following Floyd's death, Oklahoma Democrats attempted to capitalize on the protest movement by passing bills that would prohibit the use of chokeholds, provide uniform guidance for body cameras, and create a database of police use-of-force incidents. However, none of those proposals received a hearing, and one Republican lawmaker called them unnecessary after the measures were met with opposition from rank-and-file officers, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials.

Instead, the Republican-dominated Statehouse passed legislation to grant immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters on public streets, as well as to prohibit “doxxing,” or the release of personal identifying information about law enforcement officers, if the intent is to stalk, harass, or threaten the officer.

“I was a little disappointed because these were simply accountability measures” aimed at “ensuring the public understands what happens when something goes wrong,” said state Rep. Monroe Nichols, a Democrat whose father and uncle were both cops.

In Wyoming, Democratic state Rep. Karlee Provenza introduced legislation that would have barred officers fired for misconduct from being hired by another law enforcement agency; her bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans.

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“If the conversation is, ‘This is an anti-policing bill,’ rather than ‘This is an accountability bill,’ it has a steeper hill to climb,” Provenza explained.

According to Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, the measure is unnecessary because law enforcement already does a good job vetting officers, including adhering to state hiring standards and voluntarily reporting officers who are decertified to a national database.

While cities across the country were establishing or expanding civilian police oversight boards, Republican governors in Tennessee and Arizona signed legislation that could limit those boards' independence, such as requiring board members to complete hours of police training or mandating that a majority of board positions be filled by sworn officers.

The review boards were created to address concerns, particularly among African-American communities, that police departments have little oversight outside of their own internal review systems, which frequently exonerate officers in fatal shootings.

“It has all the trappings of looking like the fox is watching the henhouse here,” Arizona state Sen. Kirsten Engel, a Democrat, said of the state’s legislation.

Some states continue to introduce bills to protect police, such as recent proposals in Ohio and Kentucky to make taunting or filming a police officer a crime, but roughly half of states have embraced at least some reform measures.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 67 police reforms have been signed into law in 25 states since May 2020, including laws addressing, among other things, neck restraints and chokeholds, body cameras, disciplinary and personnel records, and independent investigations.

According to the NCSL data, at least 13 states have enacted laws restricting the use of force, and at least eight have enacted laws bolstering officer reviews and investigations.

Minnesota outlawed chokeholds, and Colorado was the first state in the country to strip police of qualified immunity. Washington enacted a slew of police-reform laws, including limiting the use of no-knock warrants and establishing an independent investigator for fatal police shootings. Even GOP-dominated Texas, where Floyd was laid to rest, instituted more uniform disciplinary actions for offenders.

Some Democrats in Republican-majority states have given up on changing the justice system.

“We just hit so many roadblocks,” said South Dakota Representative Linda Duba, a Democrat who was part of a reform coalition.

There appeared to be momentum to rethink the role of policing in minority communities during the reckoning over Floyd's death, according to Duba, but the issue calcified along political lines.

“It’s happening slowly because we live in a state where people are either not exposed to it, don’t believe it occurs, or believe criticizing law enforcement is unpatriotic,” she explained.

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Acacia Coronado in Austin, Tallahassee, Florida; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa; and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member with the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover under-reported issues.

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