The city of Davis on Friday suddenly announced that they had changed their policy on carotid holds, commonly known as chokeholds—which have become controversial in light of the recent death of George Floyd, caused when an officer put his knee to his neck, and of course in light of the infamous chokehold on Eric Garner in New York that led to his death and the launching of the police reform movement.
On Friday afternoon, Chief Darren Pytel texted the new policy: “Due to the potential for inflicting unintended serious bodily injury, officers shall not use chokeholds, strangleholds, Lateral Vascular Neck Restraints, Carotid Restraints, chest compressions, or any other tactics that restrict oxygen or blood flow to the head or neck.”
He confirmed, “I just made the change.”
The governor at 4 pm on Friday put out a policy revision announcing new policing and criminal justice reforms, including new standards for crowd control and use of force in protests.
In the release he called for “the end of the carotid hold and other like techniques in California, directing that the carotid hold be removed from the state police training program and state training materials. He committed to working with the Legislature on a statewide ban that would apply to all police forces across the state.”
“We have a unique and special responsibility here in California to meet this historic moment head-on,” said Governor Newsom. “We will not sit back passively as a state.”
The change locally by Chief Pytel was rapid and marked what would appear to be a large reversal from earlier in the week, when the chief defended the hold to the Police Accountability Commission.
He noted in comments to the commission that the carotid control hold was reserved for “situations where the person is violent and other reasonable tactics don’t work.”
He said in “the carotid control hold, the vast majority of people if it’s correctly applied will recover.” As a result, he said, “many departments have not completely banned it.”
He said there is a movement to ban them, but said most places still allow them to be used in a situation where deadly force is authorized.
“There are times when officers have to engage a person in physical combat and they are unable to get to other tools that they have – such as a taser or baton or something like that,” he said. “In those cases where deadly force would be authorized then the carotid control hold or a bar arm may be an appropriate technique to use in order to save a life.”
In an email to the Vanguard on Friday morning, Chief Pytel sent the policy that existed up until Friday afternoon.
It explained, “Carotid Control Hold: Any technique which is applied in an effort to control or disable a person by applying pressure to the carotid artery, the jugular vein, or the sides of the neck with the purpose or intent or effect of controlling a person’s movement or rendering a person unconscious by constricting the flow of blood to and from the brain.”
It continues: “The proper application of the carotid control hold by a trained officer may be effective in quickly restraining a violent individual. However, due to the potential for inflicting unintended serious bodily injury, the carotid control hold or a neck restraint is only justified when deadly force is authorized.”
It further notes, “Any individual who has been rendered unconscious by the carotid control hold or a neck restraint shall be placed in a position of recovery and receive prompt on-scene medical attention. The person shall be continuously monitored until medical treatment is provided. Careful consideration shall be given to not place the person in a position that would restrict breathing.”
Chief Pytel noted, “This subject has obviously gotten more attention these last few weeks and there is still public confusion regarding what a chokehold is and isn’t. Furthermore, what was witnessed during the death of George Floyd was not in any way shape or form an authorized restraint technique or something that could be categorized as a hold.”
Given that the carotid control hold was previously only authorized with deadly force, the chief pointed out, “(California) adopted the most stringent and contemporary use of force standard in the country through AB 392, which took effect January 1, 2020, and SB 230, which takes effect on January 1, 2021.”
The governor also noted, “This announcement follows the work California did last year to enact the nation’s strongest standard for police use of deadly force.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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