The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department announced the adoption of new use-of-force policies on Wednesday that explicitly prohibit the use of chokeholds, require de-escalation tactics and create a clear standard for deadly use of force based on a California model.
The new policies also outline more rules regarding less lethal use of force, such as chemical spray and electronic devices, such as Tasers, and prohibit officers from firing into or from moving vehicles.
The change follows nationwide protests over the death of Black residents at the hands of police and, in particular, George Floyd, who was choked to death by an officer in Minneapolis in May.
“The adoption of these new use-of-force standards is a substantial milestone, one that I hope demonstrates our commitment to building community trust and developing stronger neighborhood partnerships to address violent crime,” IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said in a statement.
Officers will undergo training on the new policies, which were last updated in 2016 and will largely take effect on Monday.
Read it all: IMPD’s new use of force policy
The change is among a medley of efforts to reform policing in the community — including ending the use of no-knock warrants, a new board to review every use-of-force incident and a proposal to change the makeup of the General Orders Committee, which sets department policy.
But while city officials touted the new use-of-force policies as a step in the right direction, some organizers doubt whether it will improve the city’s policing.
“This doesn’t seem like it’s actually going to produce change,” said Destiny Brown, who organized a protest at the Indiana War Memorial in May. “I don’t think it’s promising at all. It’s a bunch of guidelines but like, nothing concrete in terms of what’s actually going to have impact on the community.”
The new procedures require officers to de-escalate a situation before using force.
That includes clearly communicating with a person to ensure they comply, possibly through persuasion or through giving advice. It also includes increasing distance between the person, using situational awareness and looking for opportunities to slow down the pace of the encounter.
“Officers must also never knowingly or intentionally escalate a situation in violation of this section,” the new policy reads. “Officers must never use taunting, insulting, harassing, or verbally abusive language that is intended to, or is likely to, provoke another person or escalate the situation.”
The new guidelines also require officers to only use force proportional to the situation, or the minimum amount of force required based on the circumstances. Officers must determine an appropriate level of force by considering a number of factors, including the severity of the crime, the immediate threat from the suspect and whether the suspect is impaired with drugs, alcohol or has a mental health ormedical condition.
The guidelines also dictate more requirements for less lethal force, requiring officers to give a verbal warning before deploying an electric shock device, such as a Taser, or chemical spray whenever feasible.
Officers are forbidden from using spray on people with respiratory conditions or those engaged in passive resistance, unless under pressing circumstances.
The act of fleeing also does not justify use of electronic devices, according to the new policy.
Initial training for every office will be in two-hour blocks and is expected to take several months, according to the department. Officers will only be required to follow the proportionality requirement once their training is complete.
Concerns of effectiveness
But Brown said there were a number of unanswered questions in the policies.
An officer’s situational awareness may not be good if they have bias, she noted, and officers may still escalate a situation without knowingly or intentionally doing so.
Officers may also feel threatened just by the color of someone’s skin, she said.
“When we trust the judgment of a police department whose situational awareness has led to the death of some people in our city — Dreason Reed, McHale Rose, Aaron Bailey and more — and more, I think that perception that officers have an ethical situational awareness on how to respond and deescalate a situation is kind of absurd to me,” Brown said.
Brown also argued that chemical spray should also be prohibited, as officers can’t immediately tell if someone has a pre-existing condition that could endanger them.
IMPD has said that Reed fired a gun at officers following a vehicle pursuit that ended with Reed’s death near West 62nd Street and Michigan Road. Part of that pursuit and Reed’s death was captured on social media as Reed streamed the chase on Facebook live.
Reed’s family, however, disputes IMPD’s report and claims that he did not fire a gun. A special prosecutor is overseeing an investigation of the shooting.
Police also say that Rose, who was shot and killed within an eight hours of Reed’s death, dialed 911 in an apparent attempt to attract officers to an “ambush-style attack.”
Aaron Bailey was killed in 2017 after a late-night traffic stop turned into a vehicle pursuit. Two officers fired shots into Bailey’s car after it crashed, claiming that they saw him reach into the center console and that they feared he may have held a gun. He was unarmed.
Meanwhile, IMPD continues to internally investigate the use of force from two officers who arrested two women during the downtown protests, using pepper balls and batons on one and shoving another to the ground.
The incident, captured on camera, led to an excessive force lawsuit against three officers and one sergeant. The Marion County prosecutor’s office also opened a criminal investigation into the matter that is still pending.
The mayor’s office also announced a three-member panel to review the police response to the protests and potentially recommend policy changes. Two panel members have declined to share details of the investigation with the Star, but the mayor’s office confirmed that the review has begun. That report is anticipated by the end of the year.