Chokeholds considered 'deadly use of force' in many local police departments

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- 'I can't breathe,' the now infamous final words of George Floyd are echoed across the country as the cries for national police reform grow louder.

Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to Floyd's neck, however not all police departments allow neck restraints in their use of force policies.

The ABC11 I-Team reached out to six North Carolina police departments and learned most have restrictions on chokeholds and other neck restraints.

Both the Wake County and Cumberland County Sheriff's Offices said they do not teach or use chokeholds.

The Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville police departments, along with the Durham Sheriff's Office state in their policies that chokeholds are considered a deadly use of force.

However, none of the agencies' use of force policies explicitly stated the technique was banned.

6/25/20 UPDATE: Durham Police Department recently clarified its use-of-force policy in its General Orders Manual, dated June 2020.

It states: "Officers of this department are not trained in the use of chokeholds and therefore they are not an authorized use of force technique."

Previous General Orders Manual dated November 2019: "Chokeholds are considered a use of deadly physical force. Officers of this department are not trained in the use of chokeholds and therefore, are prohibited from utilizing them unless the use of deadly force is reasonable under the circumstances."


Last week Raleigh leaders decided to ban the technique and adopt more policies included in a national campaign called '8 Can't Wait.'

"Referenced in our policy is to avoid it but it does not ban it. Today we begin recrafting this policy to ban chokeholds and strangle holds," said Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown during a city council meeting.

Durham police released the following statement on 8 Can't Wait:Durham Police Department's policies are currently aligned with the 8 Can't Wait recommendations. We will continue to work with the City of Durham and our community to further clarify and enhance our policies in order to provide the highest level of service.

The 8 Can't Wait campaign advocates that police brutality will dramatically be reduced if agencies adopt eight practices for their use of force policies.

The campaign calls for officers to issue verbal warnings before firing their weapon, not shoot at moving vehicles, and intervene when another officer is using excessive force.

The Wake County Sheriff's Office and the Raleigh Police Department were the only agencies to mention giving a verbal warning if possible before resorting to deadly force.

The Fayetteville Police Department and Raleigh Police Department prohibit shooting into moving cars. Other agencies partially restrict this and ban shooting at the driver.

The ABC11 I-Team found many of the policies had detailed reporting and investigation procedures for use-of-force incidents. Many departments also had a 'Use of Force Continuum' that details an escalating series of actions officers may take to resolve a situation.

Many of the policies did not mention if officers need to exhaust all other alternatives before using force or if officers were required to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force.

RELATED: Experts: Police 'woefully undertrained' in use of force

In the wake of Floyd's murder, leaders and advocates across the country are calling for departments to take a look at their current policies.

"I would hope that each one of our local law enforcement agencies would look internally to see if their standards and practices are conforming with the law to determine if officers are using excessive force in making arrest," said Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).

Butterfield and other federal lawmakers are considering bills that target use of force practices across the country.

"What we want to do is create a national standard that would prevent excessive use of force that would absolutely ban chokeholds and other inhuman approaches to law enforcement but what you must understand is we cannot impose national standards on local law enforcement agencies. We can do it indirectly with the power of the purse," Butterfield explained.

WATCH: Black North Carolinians are arrested more often than white counterparts, I-Team investigation shows
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In 2018, black people were arrested on average at a rate five times higher than that of white people across the US. Among 250 jurisdictions, the rate was 10 times higher.



Locally, departments like the Raleigh Police Department are making changes.

A spokesperson for the Durham County Sheriff's Office said the department is reviewing its policy and may make changes in the coming weeks.

The Wake County Sheriff's Office said since Sheriff Baker began in 2018, the agency has eliminated the use of stun guns and revised its chase policy to protect innocent parties.

As the 8 Can't Wait campaign is adopted by more agencies, others caution that it shouldn't be viewed as the ultimate solution. Dr. Casey Delehanty, a professor at Gardner-Webb University who studies policing, said enforcement of the policies and accountability is key.

"We have laws on the book that curb police behavior often, but they just simply aren't enforced," Delehanty said. "And so, it would be very, very nice to adopt some of these sort of 8 Can't Wait policy set, but at the same time, we have to make sure that those policies are actually going to be enforced by local state and federal authorities, which often has been lacking in the past."
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