Austin police to update neck restraints policy amid pressure for use-of-force reforms


Austin (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department confirmed to KXAN Wednesday morning that it will be updating its policy on vascular neck restraints and carotid neck restraints to state that they are “not an approved tactic unless it is a deadly force situation.”

This comes as Austin Police Department and law enforcement entities around the country face mounting pressure to change and clarify policies related to the use of force in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis after a police officer held a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Many Austin City Council members, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler have called for Austin police to adopt the use-of-force policies called for by the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign. One of the eight proposals is that law enforcement entities ban all chokehold and neck restraints in all circumstances.

The 8 Can’t Wait campaign has done an assessment of policies in different cities and found that Austin police only comply with three of the eight policies their campaign calls for. Austin Police Association President Ken Cassaday tells KXAN he disagrees with that assessment — he believes the department is doing seven of the eight policies currently. Emails KXAN obtained from Austin Police commanders indicate that at least some leaders within APD believe the department is doing eight of the eight policies.

On Tuesday, Austin police spokespeople told KXAN that chokeholds and strangleholds “are not a part of the APD training curriculum and are not approved tactics for restraining or arresting an individual.”

“APD neither teaches nor allows the use of the vascular neck restraint or carotid neck restraint,” APD spokespeople told KXAN on Tuesday. Instead of targeting the airway, both types of restraints reduce blood flow and can lead to unconsciousness.

When KXAN asked for clarification, APD spokespeople sent an identical statement Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, APD spokespeople re-sent the same statement, but added two new sentences at the end which read:

“Although not trained or allowed, our policy does not specifically state it is not an approved tactic. We will update our policy to state it is not an approved tactic unless it is a deadly force situation.”

An email forwarded to KXAN indicated that on June 5, Mark Spangler, who is an APD Commander for Recruiting and Training, addressed concerns about chokeholds and strangleholds among other Austin Police leaders.

Spangler’s email reiterates that chokeholds and strangleholds are not part of APD training and that APD does not teach or allow the use of vascular neck restraint or carotid neck restraint.

“Officers are taught to recognize when/how to defeat a choke hold and that if they are employed against them the appropriate response to resistance would include the possibility of having to use deadly force,” he wrote.

Spangler wrote a recommendation that APD update its general orders to expressly ban the use of vascular neck restraint or carotid neck restraint “in all cases except where deadly force would be authorized.”

Tuesday at the Austin City Council work session, council members expressed some confusion over what APD’s policies related to neck restraints.

“I heard it’s generally prohibited but there’s an improvisation of our general orders that could create the opportunity for that to happen,” Council Member Greg Casar said Tuesday, suggesting that city leaders double check the APD general orders to see if there are any possible loopholes that would allow for chokeholds or neck restraints.

Casar is bringing forward a resolution at the Austin City Council meeting Thursday which aims to change some police policies and tactics. One line of this resolution reads, “It is the stated policy of the City that the use of chokeholds and strangleholds is strictly prohibited as a policing tactic.”

Austin City Council members have already indicated they intend to pass Casar’s resolution as well as four other resolutions related to police reform and racial justice at Thursday’s meeting.

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