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Utah Legislature Takes Step Towards Banning Knee-holds

Utah House Democrats

Democratic state Sen. Sandra Hollins introduced a bill Tuesday into that would ban the use of knee holds by Utah police officers.

“This bill is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Hollins.

The measure would also bar the police academy from teaching officers how to use chokeholds and any other maneuvers that restrict breathing and blood flow.

“We wanted to do something in the short term,” said Sen. Evan Vickers, Senate Republican Majority Leader and the bill’s co-sponsor. “Send a message that in the short term we are attempting to make meaningful changes.”  

The bill does not go so far as to ban chokeholds. Vickers said that’s because the restraint may help law enforcement in some instances.

“What happens if an officer is in fear for his life, you know, and if these use that chokehold to subdue an individual to prevent that individual from taking that officer’s life, where does that lie,” said Vickers.  

But, Vickers said he’s open to discussing a chokehold ban in the future.

The Quad-Caucus, which is made up of the legislature’s six Black, Latino and Native American members is working on a series of police reform measures.

“It’s about time to address these issues that have existed for decades, when it comes to policing and the systemic racism across the country and here in Utah,” said Rep. Mark Wheatley, member of the Quad-Caucus.

The group of Democratic lawmakers plans to introduce bills that would create a state-wide review of local police departments, improve de-escalation training and make police officer’s disciplinary records publicly available.

All of these measures would need Republican buy-in. Vickers said that he’s open to discussing additional reforms, but hasn’t signed on to any of the Democratic proposals just yet.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Wheatley.

The knee-hold ban passed through committee unanimously and is slated for a full vote during the special legislative session on Thursday.

Editor's Note: The audio version of this story misidentified Evan Vickers.