Louisiana police reform bill passes Senate committee

Chokeholds, ‘no-knock’ warrants, body cameras at issue

By: - April 28, 2021 9:00 am

A scene in Minnesota after George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police and residents erupted in anger. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests across the country and renewed calls for police reform. (Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.)

A bill from the Louisiana Legislature’s police reform task force cleared a Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday with proposals regarding chokeholds, search warrants, and other issues.

Senate Bill 34, sponsored by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, advanced out of the Senate Committee on Judiciary B without objection Tuesday. The bill comprises several statutory reforms recommended by the Police Training Screening and De-escalation Task Force, a 25-member panel established in response to national outcry at the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

The bill would mostly prohibit chokeholds and no-knock warrants, mandate policies for dashboard and body-worn cameras and require training for officers to intervene when another officer is doing something wrong. Chokeholds would only be allowed  “when the officer reasonably believes he or another person is at risk of great bodily harm or when deadly force is authorized.”

Some jurisdictions already have policies on chokeholds. The Baton Rouge Police Department prohibits “chokeholds or strangleholds, except in emergency circumstances where it is immediately necessary to use deadly force and the authorized weapons are inoperable, inaccessible or otherwise not available.” A legislative policy would apply statewide.

The bill proposes that the Council on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which is in charge of training and certifying all police recruits in the state, establish a “duty to intervene” training program to teach recruits how to intervene when witnessing a colleague’s misconduct. 

The bill would also require that all law enforcement agencies adopt policies on vehicle dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras, though it stops short on mandating that cameras remain on. Furthermore, it would create a statewide prohibition on “no-knock” warrants, which occur when officers kick in a door and raid a home without warning. The prohibition would have a limited exception for cases in which the surprise element of a no-knock warrant is deemed necessary to protect lives.  

The bill would also require standard search warrants to be served by a uniformed officer during daytime unless a judge has good cause to authorize a nighttime raid. It would require the officer to give a copy of the signed warrant to the person in the home.

Nighttime search warrants are rare but can be more dangerous for both police and suspects, Louisiana State Police Lt. Robert Burns said, testifying in support of the bill. 

No-knock warrants came under renewed scrutiny last year when Louisville, Ky., police shot dead Breonna Taylor during a nighttime raid on her home in March 2020. Police didn’t find the narcotics they said they were searching for.

No one opposed Senate Bill 34 on Tuesday. It was supported by Louisiana State Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, among others.

A 2020 NPR review of chokehold bans in the nation’s largest police departments found the policies largely ineffective and poorly enforced.

The task force’s most significant recommendation is a bill that would dismantle the qualified immunity that blocks lawsuits against police officers who wrongfully kill or injure citizens. House Bill 609 is pending in the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee.

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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