Police practices under scrutiny by state panel, including lawsuits, cameras and warrants

A task force studying police practices Thursday will debate trimming police protection against lawsuits alleging abuse, requiring vehicles to have dashboard cameras that are activated when an officer gets out and new rules for no-knock policies.

The 25-member panel is also set to consider a possible law that requires police under investigation to undergo lie detector tests, making chokeholds a civil rights violation and making it easier to prove that officers were guilty of misconduct.

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The issues stem from a months-long study by the Police Training, Screening and Deescalation Task Force.

The Legislature last year authorized the study after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died in May after a White police officer held him on the ground with his knee on his neck for nearly eight minutes. The incident set off protests worldwide.

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The proposed changes are among the ideas submitted by subcommittees of the task force.

State Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, chairman of the committee, has said he plans to introduce legislation that stems from the study for the 2021 regular legislative session, which begins April 12.

“That would basically give us an opportunity to address some of the problems we have,” Fields said Wednesday.

He said the hearings have been marked by bipartisan cooperation.

The chairman of a legislative task force studying police practices statewide Thursday named four subcommittees that will make recommendations …

The study group includes state lawmakers, peace officers and criminal justice professors from LSU and Southern University.

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At least 18 changes in police practice are scheduled for debate on Thursday at 10 a.m. and Friday at 9 a.m.

The protection against lawsuits is called qualified immunity. It is designed to protect officers against baseless civil lawsuits that claim abuse.

Critics contend the rules need to be changed to make police more accountable, and to reduce police brutality. A bid to reduce immunity policies was rejected by a state House committee in June, with Republicans mostly opposed and Democrats in support.

Exactly how the task force would change current policies is unclear.

Officials said they are still hammering out details in advance of Thursday’s hearing as well as possible changes in no-knock warrants.

Another proposal would require all police vehicles to have a dashboard camera that would be activated when a peace officer gets out.

In addition, police officers would be required to wear a body camera that would be turned on when he or she gets out of the vehicle. While cameras are becoming more common, critics complain they are often left off during critical moments.

While most police departments have banned chokeholds, the task force will debate a proposal that would make chokeholds and carotid holds a civil rights violation.

It would also direct the attorney general to craft a policy that prohibits chokeholds for law enforcement officers except when deadly force is authorized.

Other possible changes up for discussion include bans on officers under scrutiny from reviewing body camera footage before they are interviewed; requiring police to take lie detector tests if they have legal representation; requiring department employees to undergo anti-bias training before agencies can land state grant money and requiring officer disciplinary records to remain on file for at least 10 years.

Another subcommittee recommendation would trim the threshold for police misconduct from “willingly” to “knowingly or with reckless disregard.”

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