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Voters around the U.S. approve local police reform measures

NBC News logo NBC News 11/5/2020 Safia Samee Ali
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Voters in at least six states overwhelmingly approved police reform measures on Election Day, reflecting a growing demand for greater law enforcement accountability after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.

Creating and strengthening police oversight boards, changing department staffing and funding levels and allowing greater public access to body and dashboard camera recordings were among the measures approved by voters around the country.

Many of the reforms run along the lines of laws already passed in localities in other states, such as Massachusetts and New York, in response to widespread protests over racial injustice and police violence nationwide.

Voters in nearly a dozen cities and counties in California, Texas, Oregon and Ohio approved creating, overhauling or strengthening police oversight boards.

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In Portland, Oregon, where police protests have been ongoing since Floyd's death in May, over 80 percent of voters passed Measure 26-217, which amends the city's charter to create a police oversight committee that would have the power to investigate the use of deadly force and allegations of misconduct by officers. The committee would also have power to discipline officers for wrongdoing.

Clashes in Seattle, where protesters set up an "autonomous zone" from police over the summer, was a likely impetus in King County, Washington, to pass several reform measures, including establishing a civilian-led Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, which would have legal authority and subpoena power to examine officer misconduct. It was passed with more than 82 percent of the vote.

King County voters also approved a charter amendment that will require a special inquest into killings by law enforcement and mandate that a public attorney be provided to represent victims' families.

Similar measures to approve independent oversight boards were passed in several California jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Oakland and Sonoma County. San Diego voters approved Measure B, creating an independent Commission on Police Practices to investigate misconduct, complaints and in-custody deaths using subpoenas.

As votes continued to be counted Wednesday in Pennsylvania, voters in Philadelphia appeared to be favoring the creation of a Citizens Police Oversight Committee to replace its Police Advisory Commission, which has been heavily criticized for its ineffectiveness in police accountability.

Also appearing headed for approval in Philadelphia was a proposal to add language to the city charter calling on the police department to "eliminate the practice of unconstitutional stop and frisk, consistent with judicial precedent."

Protests erupted after Philadelphia police last month fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., 27, a Black man, while responding to a call about a man armed with a knife. Police have said that officers ordered Wallace to drop the knife several times but that he continued to advance on them while holding it. Both officers fired, striking Wallace in a shoulder and the chest, officials said.

Voters in Akron, Ohio, approved a charter amendment requiring that recordings from police body and dashboard cameras be released to the public in use-of-force cases resulting in death or serious injury, unless prohibited by state or federal law.

Calls to "defund the police" echoed consistently during nationwide protests against police brutality, prompting the question to appear on several ballots Tuesday.

In Los Angeles County, voters approved a measure that will require the county to spend at least 10 percent of its annual general fund budget, or an estimated $360 million, on alternatives to incarceration, such as job training, substance abuse programs and mental health treatment.

In San Francisco, voters passed an amendment that will remove mandatory police staffing levels from the city's charter.

Not all jurisdictions decided to take a step back from police funding. In DuPage County, Illinois, voters backed a measure to keep law enforcement and public safety as its top budgeting priority.

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