Violent confrontations between police and the public sparked a national conversation examining the relationship law enforcement agencies have with the communities they serve. State lawmakers’ role in the discussion is critical as they participate on task forces and consider and enact new laws that address policing. Current policies being reviewed include community policing, use of force, bias and policing data.

Community Policing

“Community policing” is an approach to law enforcement that uses community partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address public safety concerns, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Community policing proponents assert that by building strong relationships, communities and police are better able to respond to and communicate during crisis situations.

Rather than a specific set of policies, community-policing is a philosophy that may look different in every locality based on the needs of the police and the people in each jurisdiction. Recent evaluations of community policing practices have occurred at the state and federal level. President Barrack Obama created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to identify and recommend best practices for “fostering strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they protect.” The Task Force released its final report in May 2015.

In April 2016, Washington (HB 2908) (2016) became the most recent state to initiate a formal review of policing practices. The legislature created the joint legislative task force on the use of deadly force in community policing. The task force is charged with reviewing laws, practices, and training programs regarding deadly force and making recommendations to reduce the number of violent interactions between law enforcement officers and members of the public by December 2016.

Also in 2016, the Oregon legislature (SB 5701) appropriated $959,000 for developing and disseminating research-based community policing skills through the Oregon Center for Policing Excellence. Utah lawmakers similarly empowered (HB 355) the state’s attorney general to establish a training center and provide resources regarding law enforcement use of force. Under the law, the attorney general will provide statewide training and informational materials regarding investigating use of force, tactical disengagement, sanctity and preservation of life and stress management in life threatening situations.

Last year, Ohio created a Task Force on Community-Police Relations to explore causes of, and potential solutions to, damaged relationships between police officers and communities. The final report was released in April 2015. Ohio also created a statewide Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board charged with developing statewide minimum standards for the proper use-of-force, including deadly force. In addition, the Ohio Legislature (HB 64) (2015) appropriated $2 million to the task force for the purpose of implementing a database on a use of force and officer-involved shootings, a public awareness campaign, and state-provided assistance with policy-making and manuals.

California appropriated funds for grants to local law enforcement for programs and initiatives intended to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Grant funds can be used to train officers on implicit bias, examine local policing services, assess law enforcement-community relations, review problem-oriented policing initiatives and restorative justice programs that address the needs of victims, offenders, and the community, and pay for one-time costs associated with body camera programs.

In Maryland, (Public Safety § 3-512) the General Assembly enacted a law in 2015 to require Baltimore’s Police Commissioner to submit annual reports detailing the department’s community policing efforts, including programs, participation in town hall meetings, and efforts to engage in schools, recreation centers, community centers and senior centers.

Community Policing Resources:

Investigations into Officer Involved Deaths

Nine states have created procedures to improve transparency in investigations into officer-involved deaths or allegations of police abuse of force. California (Penal Code §§ 917, 919) Colorado (§§ 16-2.5-301, 20-1-114) Connecticut (§ 51-277a), Georgia (§15-12-83, §15-12-71), Hawaii (§§ 28-151 through 153), Illinois (50 § 727/ 1–10), New York (Executive Order 147), Utah (§ 76-2-408) and Wisconsin (§ 175.47).

Connecticut’s law and New York’s executive order require state agencies (Division of Criminal Justice in Connecticut and the Attorney General in NY) to investigate all use of force by police officers (Connecticut) or any death of an unarmed civilian (New York). Hawaii created a new entity, the Law Enforcement Officer Independent Review Board within the department of the attorney general, to investigate incidents of officer-involved death. The state appropriated $500,000 for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 to operate the board.

Colorado and Illinois require all police departments to have policies in place that prescribe investigative protocols for incidents where an officer discharges a weapon that causes injury or death (Colorado) or for all officer-involved deaths (Illinois). Utah requires that its law enforcement agencies work with the district or county attorney to designate an agency to investigate instances where peace officers’ use force.

Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin each require that the personnel investigating an officer’s use of force not be employed by the same department as the officer under review. Illinois and Wisconsin require that if investigators determine that there is no probable cause to file charges against an officer, then a report detailing their findings will be released to the public. In New York, the report is given to the Governor under similar circumstances. Colorado places discretion to release the report to the public in the hands of the district attorney.

California prohibits grand juries in most circumstances from inquiring into an offense that involves a shooting or use of excessive force by an officer that led to a person’s death. Investigations by grand juries are secret, not adversarial and witnesses are not cross-examined. These cases are now heard in the state’s preliminary hearing process, which is public and adversarial. Georgia’s law enables a grand jury to use its civil authority to conduct an inquiry into situations where an officer causes serious bodily harm or death. All evidence and legal advice reported to the grand jury is recorded and, if the attorney general is advised not to seek indictment, a report is created and will be made available to the public. The law also provides that if an officer provides testimony to the grand jury, they are subject to cross-examination by the prosecutor.

50-state map showing laws regarding investigations into officer involved deaths
Data on Police Stops and Use of Force 

In order to understand underlying concerns in certain police-public interactions, many states have begun to track circumstances surrounding, and demographic information of individuals involved in, police encounters.

Police Involved Deaths and Use of Force

Prior to 2015, two states—North Carolina (§ 143B-904) and Oregon (§ 181.789)—required the collection of data for all cases where deadly force is used by police. North Carolina requires the Department of Public Safety to collect data and publish annual reports on the number of police involved deaths. Oregon requires law enforcement agencies to collect specific information for each deadly use of force, including the name, gender, race, ethnicity and age of the deceased.

In 2015, several more states required the collection of police statistics specific to the use of deadly force or the discharge of a weapon. California (Gov. Code § 12525.2) will require, beginning in 2017, every law enforcement agency to report all instances when a peace officer shoots, or is shot by a civilian or when an officer harms, kills, or is harmed or killed by a civilian to the Department of Justice. Each report must contain the gender, race, and age of the person shot, injured, or killed, as well as whether the civilian was armed and the type of force used by all parties involved. Under the law, the Department of Justice shall include a summary of these incidents in their annual crime report. Texas (HB 1036) also requires, through its attorney general, statistics to be tracked on each officer-caused and officer-sustained injury and death.

Similarly, Colorado (§ 24-33.5-517) now requires every officer-involved shooting be reported to the state Division of Criminal Justice. Information that must be recorded includes the age, race, gender, sexual orientation, medically documented physical or mental ailment of the suspect, the age, gender race and ethnicity of the officer, the basis of the stop or contact that led to the shooting, and the officer’s reason for the shooting. The Division must report on this information annually. Addressing local concerns, Maryland (HB 771, HB 954) set reporting requirements for officer use of force and officer-involved deaths in Baltimore City.

Connecticut (§ 51-277a) requires all law enforcement agencies to maintain records of every incident where a police officer uses force likely to cause serious physical injury or death or discharges a firearm. The record has to include the name of the officer, the time and place of the incident, a description of what occurred during the incident and, to the extent known, the names of the victims and witnesses present at such incident.

Pedestrian Stops

In 2015, California and Illinois enacted laws to track statistics for pedestrian encounters with police. California (Gov. Code § 12525.5) now requires each police department to report data on all stops conducted by their officers. Data must also be collected on charges that resulted from arrests, the sentences resulting from all charges and the outcomes of parole hearings.

Illinois (SB 1404) (2015) requires police to provide every pedestrian they stop in a public place with a stop card. The stop card must include information about the person’s gender and race, the reasons that led to the stop, the type of frisk or search conducted, whether or not contraband was found or seized, whether the stop led to a warning, ticket, summons, or an arrest, as well as, the name and badge number of the officer who conducted the detention. The Illinois Department of Transportation is required to collect and analyze all pedestrian stop information and report its findings to the General Assembly and the Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board. Rhode Island (§ 31–21.2–5) prohibits pedestrian stops unless reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity exists. The law requires every stop that does not result in criminal charges to be documented in a police-generated report. The report must include the date, time, and location of the stop, along with the “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” leading to the search. The police report shall also include the race, age, and gender of the individual searched and the results of the search.

Motor Vehicle Stops

At least 15 states collect demographic information for person’s whose vehicles are stopped by police. Missouri, for example, (§ 590.650) requires every law enforcement agency to report, for every officer stop of a motor vehicle, the age, gender, race or minority group of the individual stopped, the reasons for the stop, whether a search was conducted as a result of the stop, whether contraband was discovered, whether any warning or citation was issued, or an arrest was made, as a result of the stop, any crime charged and the location of the stop. The attorney general is required to collect and analyze their information and report on the findings to the governor and the General Assembly. Alabama (§ 32-5B-8) requires every police department to maintain statistical information on traffic stops on minorities and report that information monthly to the Department of Public Safety and the attorney general.


A few states require the collection of statistics to address employment decisions of police departments. Connecticut (HB 7103) (2015) addresses hiring and employment practices by requiring each police department to develop and implement guidelines for the recruitment, retention and promotion of minority police officers. It also prohibits police departments from hiring any police officer who was dismissed for misconduct or who resigned or retired while under investigation for misconduct.  Maryland (Public Safety § 3-510) requires the city of Baltimore to report annually on their number of police officers, including the number of African American and female officers, officers who are residents of the city, civilian complaints against police officers and the number of officers who were suspended. Colorado (§ 24–33.5–114) requires police departments to share information about misrepresentations made, or misconduct committed, by officers who are seeking employment with other departments within the state.

Police Interactions with People who have Mental Health, Substance Use or Behavioral Disorders

Police interactions with people suffering from mental illness, substance use or behavioral disorders can be dangerous because officers may be unaware of how to recognize symptoms and appropriately respond. Two significant efforts by state legislatures to improve law enforcement’s response to these situations have been to require training for police and to establish requirements and standards for crisis intervention teams.

At least 27 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring officers to be trained to respond to mental health, substance use and behavioral disorder issues. Laws specify which officers are to be trained, which entity is responsible for conducting the training, whether or not funding is provided, and whether or not the training is mandated. Delaware (11 § 8405), for example, requires its Council on Police Training to train all police officers while New Mexico charges its Law Enforcement Academy Board with this duty. Some states—California, Illinois and Oklahoma along with the District of Columbia— require continuing education for police personnel. Others, such as Ohio, require the programs to be part of basic training. Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin specify a funding source for their training programs.

At least 12 states have legislatively created requirements and/or guidelines for the establishment of crisis intervention teams. Crisis intervention teams (CITs) are formal partnerships among police departments and mental health providers that ensure responding personnel are trained to identify, assess and de-escalate crisis situations. For example, Arkansas (§ 6-64-1202) required its Law Enforcement Training Committee to establish a crisis intervention team among several entities including the Mental Health Council of Arkansas; the Administrative Office of the Courts; local, state, and county law enforcement officers; and mental health practitioners.

50-state map showing laws regarding police interactions and individuals with mental illness

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