District officials want to put a stop to excessive force when it comes to police use of neck restraints.
The D.C. Office of Police Complaints, which investigates instances of police misconduct, today submitted a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the D.C. Council, and District police Chief Cathy Lanier that recommends broad reforms to MPD’s policies on chokeholds. The eight-page report finds that police officers are not being properly trained to use a type of neck restraint called the “carotid artery hold,” which can immobilize a person by constricting blood flow to and from the brain.
The report also finds MPD’s current use-of-force policy doesn’t comply with District law.
“No issue is more divisive for community relations than the perception that police use of force has been excessive or disproportionate,” says Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director, in a press release. “The District should consider whether it would be in the best interests of our community and MPD to have the Office of Police Complaints play a role in independently monitoring and reporting on the use of force.”
Part of the problem, the report outlines, has to do with the distinction between carotid artery holds and “trachea holds,” which can cut off a person’s breathing and are “absolutely prohibited” by a 1986 law. Although the former type of hold has been permitted by the department “only under those circumstances where the use of lethal force [is] necessary to protect the life of a citizen or officer,” the MPD’s use-of-force policy doesn’t distinguish between the two holds—nor does it define the term “neck restraint.” Furthermore, the report states, the MPD’s policy fails to outright prohibit trachea holds. “The holds are not included in [MPD] lesson plans and there are no such holds in the use of force training continuum,” the report says. “While the [MPD] has indicated that the neck region is identified as a deadly force area to all officers in training, no specific training in the legality, application, or use of neck restraints is provided.”
The OPC lists four recommendations for MPD and the D.C. Council to improve upon chokehold tactics by police officers, such as creating “comprehensive recruit and in-service training” on the use of neck restraints, considering whether the 1986 chokehold law should be amended, and expanding OPC’s purview to include “monitor[ing] and review[ing] all use of force incidents.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery