ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- More local law enforcement agencies are updating their policies on neck restraints and chokeholds following George Floyd's death and amid calls for police reform.
I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern found the Tarpon Springs Police Department updated its policy on Monday to make clear that neck restraints are considered deadly force.
The I-Team obtained the revised use of force policy, which states, “It shall be considered deadly force in an officer intentionally obstructs a subject’s airway or attempts to limit their breathing, either by choking them or placing something on their neck area that restricts their airways.”
On Friday, the I-Team reported that policies for the Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Hernando and Citrus County sheriff’s offices do not specifically address neck restraints and chokeholds. Each agency told the I-Team neck restraints and chokeholds are banned, some, permitting the technique in a life or death situation, but acknowledged there’s nothing in writing in official policies.
In Citrus County, Sgt. Lee Carey told the I-Team, "We recently completed mandatory roll call training with every sworn deputy in our agency to review this policy and our stance on the use of force. We specifically discussed the chokehold/carotid artery restraints and our agency’s position of not being allowed."
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on police reform.
"As part of this new credentialing, chokeholds will be banned except if an officer’s life is at risk," said President Trump.
Scott Wilder, spokesperson for the Polk County Sheriff's Office, told the I-Team, while chokeholds are not addressed in its use of force policy, it is among the agencies that does not train deputies to use a chokehold as an approved method of self-defense.
"Having said that, Sheriff Judd agrees with the President’s executive order—Sheriff Judd opposes an outright ban of a 'choke hold' in cases where a deputy is attempting to defend against great bodily harm or death," said Wilder.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association recently tapped St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway to lead its efforts in developing a standard use of force policy for agencies across the state.
“So whether you’re in Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, St. Pete, the use of force policy is the use of force policy, so you don’t have to make a guess any more,” said Holloway. “That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Chief Kenneth Albano, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and chief of the Temple Terrace Police Department, said the subcommittee Holloway now chairs will develop recommendations to rebuild trust and accountability between law enforcement and communities and “begin to address some of the most deep-seeded societal issues that plague our communities and contribute to many of the negative encounters with law enforcement in the first place.”
Holloway told the I-Team that chokeholds should be considered just as deadly as an officer’s gun.
“If I can pull my weapon, then I should be able to do anything. But if I can’t pull my weapon, then I shouldn’t be using a chokehold. I shouldn’t be doing those things,” said Holloway.
The St. Pete Police Department already has written in its policy that, “Officers shall not, at any time, obstruct the breathing or carotid blood flow of a person by applying any pressure, obstruction or chokehold.”
“I’ve been doing this job for over 30 years — no one has ever taught me how to use a chokehold. I don’t know how that came about, don’t know where it came from, and it shouldn’t be there,” said Holloway.
In Temple Terrace, Chief Albano banned the use of neck restraints on June 5, the day after the I-Team requested a copy of its use of force policy.
In an email to the department, Albano wrote, “In light of recent events, the Temple Terrace Police Department is reviewing our response to resistance policy and has suspended the use of the Vascular Neck Restraint (VNR). The VNR is a tactic approved by the CJSTC, and has been part of our response to resistance protocol for many years, but only as a tactic of last resort that may be utilized prior to deadly force. But let us be clear that the knee to neck tactic seen in the George Floyd case is not part of the response to resistance curriculum approved by the State of Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) and has therefore never been trained or utilized by our Department. Effective immediately and until further advised, the use of the VNR is hereby no longer authorized for use.”