HARRISBURG, PA — A split vote by members of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill proposing to ban the use of chokeholds by state and municipal police officers.
House Bill 462 would make it illegal to use a standard chokehold when making an arrest. It would apply to any act by police officers that restricts one's breathing or blood flow to the brain and would expressly ban holding a subject facedown on the ground, or in "prone restraint," for longer than 3 minutes or after they've been restrained.
The bill specifies that law enforcement wouldn't be banned from using chokeholds in situations where the use of force is permitted.
The bill was amended by Committee Chair Rep. Tim Briggs, D- Montgomery, to require record-keeping of the use of force by state and municipal police and that the resulting data be presented annually to Judiciary Committees in both the House and Senate.
Members voted 15-10 to advance the bill for further consideration, and a potential vote, on the House floor. If successful, it would still need to clear the Senate.
Two such bills in 2020 each did clear the full Senate but when they reached the House, weren't brought to a vote by a former iteration of its Judiciary Committee when it was chaired by Rep. Rob Kauffman, R- Franklin.
Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D- Philadelphia, a primary co-sponsor of House Bill 462, said police chiefs in Chester and Philadelphia counties said positional chokeholds aren't a practice taught to officers.
"These practices have shown repeatedly to be dangerous and far too often, deadly. They result not only in the loss of life but the erosion of community trust that is fundamental to effective law enforcement," Kinsey said during the committee's meeting Wednesday.
Introduced by Kinsey, Rep. Jason Dawkins, D- Philadelphia, and Rep. Greg Scott, D- Montgomery, the lawmakers cited in their co-sponsorship memo the deaths of two Black men while they were being taken into police custody — George Floyd and Eric Garner. All four ex-officers involved in Floyd's murder — one that sparked protests, some violent, nationwide in 2020 — were convicted and sentenced to prison. The officer who choked Garner in 2014, a death ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, wasn't indicted by a grand jury but was eventually fired for the incident five years later.
Rep. Jim Rigby, R- Cambria/ Somerset, a former police chief, pointed out that there is no specific definition of what constitutes a chokehold. He said he teaches de-escalation techniques but raised concern for officers who end up in a physical struggle when taking a suspect into custody.
"There are times where you are rolling around and you have to get someone in a headlock or across the chest to get the situation under control," Rigby said.
Kauffman said he understood that chokeholds are against police department policies but based on Rigby's concerns, said the bill is flawed.
Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D- Philadelphia, said families of police officers and members of the community in which they serve all want their loved ones to come home at any day's end. By banning chokeholds, Kenyatta said police officers and members of the public are protected, and that it helps create a culture of trust.
Another bill concerning law enforcement advanced unanimously by all 25 members of the committee. House Bill 1399 would require that all uniformed police officers make their identifying badges or patches clearly visible when on duty. This wouldn't apply to plainclothes officers.
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