On September 14, the Department of Justice announced a change in its policies regarding the use of more aggressive policing techniques by federal law enforcement. Agents will now only be permitted to use chokeholds or carotid restraints in situations where deadly force would be authorized. Additionally, they will only be allowed to use “no-knock” entries in dangerous situations and with prior supervisory approval.
Chokeholds and carotid restraints are both neck restraints that have long been used by law enforcement to subdue subjects. Their connection to recent high-profile police-brutality cases like the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, however, has made them controversial. As a result, the DOJ is just the latest of many agencies to place limitations on the techniques, with over half of the largest police departments in the country doing so since Chauvin’s conviction at the end of May 2021.
The use of “no-knock” entries has faced recent scrutiny for similar reasons. When police arrive at a private place to serve a warrant, they are usually required to knock on the door and then announce and identify themselves before entering. Under some circumstances, however, law enforcement can be authorized to enter forcibly and without any warning. One such no-knock warrant led to the late-night shooting death of Breonna Taylor in March 2020, and the practice has since come under fire.
Research suggests that such forcible entries cause more harm than they avert, with searches for contraband turning up nothing in 65% of cases, raids being conducted in the wrong location up to 10% of the time, and many deaths resulting—81 civilians and 13 police officers were killed in one 6-year period alone. It is therefore unsurprising that there has been a national trend towards reform in this area as well. The DOJ joins 20 cities and 15 states with partial bans on no-knock warrants as of September 2021.
Unfortunately, it is not immediately clear from the DOJ announcement how either of these new policy changes will be enforced and how or if violations by agents will be punished. The Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing has encouraged agencies to use clear enforcement mechanisms with such rules—because without them the policies are unlikely to secure compliance.
In New York City, for example, most uses of chokeholds have been prohibited since 1993, but Eric Garner was nevertheless killed by the maneuver in 2014, and there have been at least 40 more credible reports of its misuse by the NYPD since Garner’s death. A 2020 NPR review of such bans in other departments around the country found similar results and concluded that the policies are “largely ineffective.” The Task Force on Policing also found that banning neck restraints without offering additional training on alternative de-escalation methods may actually lead to an increase in the use of even more deadly forms of force.
So while reform measures are cause for some hope, infractions are likely to continue. If you or someone you know has been harmed by police brutality, you may be able to file a Section 1983 or Bivens lawsuit and recover financial compensation. Contact our team of experienced attorneys to find out more.
Kate is a criminal defense lawyer with an impressive record of “not guilty” verdicts and dismissals in serious criminal cases.