The San Francisco Police Department is amending its use of force policy to explicitly bar officers from restraining people by the neck using a knee — or any other tool or body part.
The department is also reminding officers of an existing department policy that requires officers “to intervene” when they see a fellow officer using excessive force.
The measure comes a little more than a month after Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes, killing Floyd as three other officers stood by and watched. The move also comes after video surfaced of a San Francisco Police officer appearing to use the technique on a 19-year-old man in Hunters Point in January.
As thousands marched through the streets of San Francisco in protest of the killing of Floyd and unfair policing writ large, Chief Bill Scott said at a June 3 Police Commission meeting that he would make the changes. The department released a draft on those changes on Friday and they will be up for a vote at Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting.
Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak declined to comment on whether the move was a direct reaction to Floyd or the January video. He said the chief is expected to discuss the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting.
“In light of recent attention to control techniques used by law enforcement resulting in death or injury,” the so-called department bulletin adds language that prohibits the “use of physical control” to the head, neck, or throat.
“Officers may not apply pressure while using any use of force tool, physical control or personal weapons, and other weaponless techniques such as knee, other body part to the head, neck or throat of a person while effecting an arrest of a person, overcoming resistance, or preventing escape unless an exigent circumstance arises,” the proposed change reads (emphasis ours).
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“Exigent circumstances” mean emergencies in which an officer senses an immediate danger to them or another person. Even in these circumstances, according to the proposed policy change, the officer must continually evaluate whether it’s necessary to continue using that type of force, stop as soon as possible, evaluate the person’s medical condition, and “make every effort to avoid making contact with, or putting pressure on, the person’s trachea or airway in any way …”
The bulletin also tells officers to avoid ordering detainees and arrestees to sit or lay prone on the ground — “unless an exigent circumstance applies.”
In addition to these changes, the bulletin reminds officers to intervene if they know an officer is about to use, or is using, unnecessary force — a direction already included in the SFPD’s use-of-force policy. “Officers shall promptly report any use of unnecessary force and the efforts made to intervene to a supervisor,” the policy says.
It also tells officers to review the portion of the policy that bans chokeholds and the “carotid restraint,” a hold that cuts off blood to the brain, renders a person unconscious and is potentially deadly.
Moreover, if the Police Commission passes the amendments, the use-of-force policy will be renamed to: “Use of Force Policy and Proper Control of a Person.”
“We want to be clear so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind about what can and cannot be instituted by way of force to the neck,” Scott said at the June 3 meeting.