District leaders are prepared to introduce several pieces of criminal justice reform Tuesday, including strengthening the ban on use of neck restraints. But the News4 I-Team found that is already one of lower-occurring types of use of force complaints within D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department.
"We've been relatively satisfied with the amount of incidents that we've seen that have utilized neck restraints. They've been very few and far between," said Mike Tobin, executive director of D.C.'s Office of Police Complaints (OPC).
OPC is an independent government agency tasked with receiving and investigating complaints from the public. In 2015, its board released a report criticizing MPD's policy on neck restraints, saying parts of it contradicted D.C. law. At the time, OPC recommended a complete ban, which took effect in 2017.
"Where we are today is very satisfying with respect to how MPD is responding to our policy recommendations," Tobin said. "There is always room for improvement. We'd like to see zero use of chokeholds. Maybe we'll get to that point at some point."
Current MPD policy explicitly prohibits the use of neck restraints by officers. It reads, “Use of neck restraints of any kind including, but not limited to, the use of ‘trachea holds’ and ‘carotid artery holds’ ... are not authorized use of force options and are prohibited.”
In the past several years, OPC has received two or three complaints per year regarding chokehold-like maneuvers, which are only tolerated in very few circumstances, for example accidental or incidental contact while an arrest is being made. The agency's most recent annual report documents a total of 10 chokehold complaints, out of roughly 600 complaints received during that same time frame. Tobin said none of those complaints involved the kind of action used against George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"I had never seen an incident that particular movement used prior. If I saw it today, I would say that it's definitely prohibited and it will be a violation of MPD policy," said Tobin.
MPD officers all receive training on the neck restraint policy, which even includes specific language telling them those "who use a “trachea hold” or “carotid artery hold” may be found in violation of the law."
The policy also warns officers about the dangers of positional asphyxia, saying they should avoid tactics that may impede a subject’s ability to breathe, including leaving someone on the ground face down for a prolonged period of time.
"The neck is an incredibly vulnerable part of our body, and when it is used to hold us and to restrain us, that is when injuries happen as well as what can lead to death," said Councilman Charles Allen, who chairs D.C.'s Public Safety Committee with oversight of MPD.
On Tuesday, Allen plans to introduce legislation to enhance D.C. Law to make clear that it isn't just MPD policy that prohibits that kind of action by officers.
"It's not OK to have just a couple of these neck restraints,” Allen said. “We need to have them eliminated, and that's what the goal is by making it very clear in law that law and policy will match up."