A choke hold ban has long been a part of the Atlanta Police Department’s Standard Operating Procedures.
“Neck restraints or carotid artery holds are not taught and are not approved for use by the department due to the potential for serious injury or death,” according to a provision in the department’s standard operating procedures.
The lone exception is when “it is immediately necessary to use force to prevent serious bodily injury or death and city-issued and/or authorized lethal or less lethal weapons are inoperable, inaccessible, or otherwise not available or effective.”
Atlanta Police Union national representative Ken Allen recalled that the ban had been in effect as far back as 1986. He added that he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the union, but as a retired Atlanta police officer.
“We were trained that choke holds were unacceptable,” Allen said.
Allen applauded some aspects of the orders, particularly broadening Atlanta Citizen Review Board’s mediation program. If done correctly, he said it could prevent resolvable complaints from becoming a part of an officers permanent record.
But he said some of the reforms, such as those aimed at de-escalation tactics, were already part of the department’s policies.
Councilman Amir Farokhi, who introduced an amendment to the city’s budget in June that added $1.5 million to the Pre-arrest Diversion Initiative, said Bottoms’ orders “were a powerful step in the right direction.”
Other orders issued by Bottoms include: development of a standard operating procedure to “constantly” provide the citizen review board with officer disciplinary information; compiling reports and an internet dashboard that will allow the public to see use of force trends; and developing recommendations on how to resolve conflicts between the department and the citizen review board.
Bottoms also announced during Wednesday’s briefing that the city would begin providing COVID-19 testing for all essential employees beginning on Wednesday at the city’s wellness center across from City Hall.
Essential city employees, such as police, firefighters, and some watershed employees, cannot work from home because nature of their jobs -- making them at greater risk for contracting the virus.
Bottoms said that the city has between 8,500 to 9,000 employees. About half are considered essential, she said.
Last month, Tracey Thornhill, president of the local AFL-CIO, said in a letter that employees were “dropping like flies” and called for routine testing of all essential personnel.
Bottoms said that 289 employees have tested positive for the virus. Of those, 117 have recovered and returned to work and that two employees have died.