Daniel J. Nesbitt ’22
On Wednesday Feb. 24, Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) re-introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to the House of Representatives. The bill was first introduced and was passed by the House in June 2020, however, it failed to move past the Senate which was controlled by Republicans at the time.
The bill contains a wide variety of reforms including the establishment of a National Police Misconduct Registry and various reforms aimed at ending or weakening qualified immunity. Most interestingly, the bill would ban chokeholds at the federal level, classifying them as a civil rights violation, as well as banning “carotid holds” at the federal level. Banning chokeholds or carotid holds, while well intentioned, will not necessarily help decrease the incidence of excessive force, but could even increase it.
This proposed bill mistakenly identifies the restraints themselves, chokeholds and carotid holds, as the problem, but in actuality the problem is that officers are only briefly shown the technique and receive little to no further training on when and how to properly and safely use the technique. The real problem that should be addressed is inadequate police training.
According to The Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform, only 647 hours of training, on average in the United States, is required to become a police officer, compared to 3,000 hours required to become a cosmetologist and 3,500 hours required to become a plumber. As a result of this lack of training, police officers often resort to violent strikes, tasers, and deadly force because they lack the proper training and skills to non-violently detain a suspect. A police force with adequate training, it stands to reason, would likely see lower officer and suspect injury rates, as well as lower incidence rates of use of force such as tasers.
What does adequate training look like? One police department from Marietta, GA found that implementing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) training had a significant positive impact on overall outcomes. The Marietta Police Department (MPD), according to a Feb. 8 press release, required all newly hired officers to attend a minimum of one BJJ training session per week until they completed all their training. The MPD then compared use of force data from 18 months before and after implementation of the BJJ program, specifically comparing MPD officers that averaged at least one BJJ class per week (referred to as “BJJ Officers”) and those who did not.
The implementation of the BJJ program saw a 48% overall reduction in officer injuries across the entire MPD, and none of the injured officers were BJJ officers. With respect to suspect injuries, the MPD found that suspects were 53% less likely to be seriously injured when interacting with BJJ officers compared to non-BJJ officers. In addition, BJJ officers were found to be 59% less likely to engage in use-of-force than non-BJJ officers. Furthermore, the reduction in overall injuries saw savings upwards of $40,000 for the MPD.
It is important to acknowledge the limitations of these data. This program was only implemented at one police department for approximately 18 months, in one particular geographic area. These data are encouraging though, and I suspect and hope that many other police departments will follow suit as BJJ instruction appears to result in significant positive change.