California governor ends police training in ‘sleeper hold’

CALIFORNIA, United States (AP) — California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday ordered the state police training programme to stop teaching officers a submission technique that uses a neck hold which blocks the flow of blood to the brain.

It marked his first action on police use of force following more than a week of protests across the country over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died on Memorial Day after a police officer put his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground.

Police around the country condemned the Minneapolis officer for using an unacceptable method. However, many departments still employ the carotid method, also known as the sleeper hold, that critics say is overly dangerous.

It involves applying pressure to the sides of the neck with an arm, which can almost immediately block blood flow in the carotid arteries and render someone unconscious. If the blood flow is restricted too long it can cause serious injury or even death.

As a result of Floyd’s death, police departments are reviewing their procedures. The San Diego Police Department and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department are among the agencies that announced this week they would stop using the carotid hold.

Newsom ordered the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to stop teaching the hold and said he will support legislation to outlaw the method. The commission provides curriculum for training law enforcement officers throughout California, though the decision on using the hold is up to police agencies.

“We train techniques on strangleholds that put people’s lives at risk,” Newsom said. “That has no place any longer in 21st century practices and policing.”

Newsom also said he wants the legislature to set standards for crowd control and police use of force in protests. There were many occasions during clashes with protesters in the last week when California police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds during the current protests. Some protesters suffered injuries but none has died.

“We are not seeing people treated equally all across the state of California,” Newsom said. “We need to standardise those approaches.”

Last year Newsom signed a law that limits police use of lethal force to defending against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders. The old standard allowed officers to use lethal force if they had a “reasonable fear”, which made it rare for an officer to be charged or convicted.

That law was prompted by the 2018 fatal police shooting in Sacramento of Stephon Clark, who was black. Newsom spent Wednesday cleaning up graffiti in downtown Sacramento with Clark’s brother.

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