RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The national reckoning on race and policing that followed the death of George Floyd -- with a Minneapolis police officer’s knee on his neck -- spurred a torrent of state laws aimed at fixing the police.
More than two years later, that torrent has slowed.
Some of the initial reforms have been tweaked or even rolled back after police complained that the new policies were hindering their ability to catch criminals.
And while governors in all but five states signed police reform laws, many of those laws gave police more protections, as well. More than a dozen states only passed laws aimed at broadening police accountability; five states only passed new police protections.
States collectively approved nearly 300 police reform bills after Floyd’s killing in May 2020, according to an analysis by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland. The analysis used data from the National Conference of State Legislatures to identify legislation enacted since June 2020 that affects police oversight, training, use of force policies and mental health diversions, including crisis intervention and alternatives to arrests.
Many of the accountability laws touched on themes present in Floyd’s death, including the use of body cameras and requirements that police report excessive force by their colleagues. Among other things, police rights measures gave officers the power to sue civilians for violating their civil rights.
North Carolina, for example, passed a broad law that lets authorities charge civilians if their conduct allegedly interfered with an officer’s duty. But it also created a public database of officers who were fired or suspended for misconduct.
In Minnesota -- where the reform movement was sparked by chilling video showing Floyd’s death at the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin -- the state Legislature enacted several police accountability changes, but they fell well short of what Democrats and activists were seeking.
The state banned neck restraints like the one used on Floyd. It also imposed a duty to intervene on officers who see a colleague using excessive force, changed rules on the use of force and created a police misconduct database.
But during this year’s legislative session, Democrats were unable to overcome Republican opposition to further limits on “no-knock” warrants even after a Minneapolis SWAT team in February entered a downtown apartment while serving a search warrant and killed Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man.
In Minneapolis, voters defeated a 2021 “defund the police” ballot initiative that would have replaced the department with a reimagined public safety unit with less reliance on cops with guns.
Similar dynamics have played out in states as varied as Washington and Virginia, Nevada and Mississippi. And if the range of outcomes has varied as well, that comes as no surprise to Thomas Abt, a senior fellow with the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan think tank.
“We’re in the midst of this extraordinarily painful, very formidable process,” Abt said.
In this image from video provided by Darnella Frazier, police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd who repeatedly pleaded, "I can't breathe," in Minneapolis on Monday, May 25, 2020. (Darnella Frazier via AP, File)
Attorney Ben Crump speaks during a news conference with the family of Amir Locke to demand the abolishment of "no-knock" warrants Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, at Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. During the 2022 legislative session, Democrats were unable to overcome Republican opposition to further limits on no-knock warrants even after a Minneapolis SWAT team in February entered a downtown apartment while serving a search warrant and killed Locke, a 22-year-old Black man. (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP, File)
Protesters kneel in front of New York City Police Department officers before being arrested for violating curfew beside the iconic Plaza Hotel on 59th Street, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in New York. Protests continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
A man holds a U.S. flag upside down, a sign of distress, as protesters march down the street during a solidarity rally for George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
Police use chemical irritants and crowd control munitions to disperse protesters during a demonstration against police violence and racial injustice in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, sparked by the killing of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
A protester and a police officer shake hands in the middle of a standoff during a solidarity rally calling for justice over the death of George Floyd Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in New York. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
Police shine lights on a demonstrator with raised hands during a protest outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn., over Sunday's fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a Black man, by a white police officer during a traffic stop. Wright's death came as the broader Minneapolis area awaits the outcome of the trial for Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd's death in May 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Jonte "Jonoel" Lancaster plays a trombone during a celebration for the refurbished George Floyd statue, after it was vandalized following its Juneteenth installation, Thursday, July 22, 2021 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee thanks state Rep. Jesse Johnson after signing legislation Johnson sponsored - one of 12 bills about police accountability and reform signed by the governor - during a ceremony at the Eastside Community Center in Tacoma, Wash., on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (Tony Overman/The News Tribune via AP, File)
Ken Westphal, center, an officer with the Lacey Police Dept. and an instructor at the Washington state Criminal Justice Training Commission, works with cadets LeAnne Cone, of the Vancouver Police Dept., and Kevin Burton-Crow, right, of the Thurston Co. Sheriff's Dept., during a training exercise Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Burien, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
A pedestrian walks past a mural that reads "Rest in Power George Floyd," and appears to be damaged, Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in downtown Seattle, on the one-year anniversary since Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Parents Fred Thomas and Annalesa Thomas, second right, whose son, Leonard Thomas, was killed by Lakewood, Wash., police in 2013, are greeted by Nickeia Hunter and Monisha Harrelle, right, chair of Equal Rights Washington, before ceremonies by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to sign 12 bills about police accountability at the Eastside Community Center in Tacoma, Wash., on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Nickeia Hunter is the sister of Carlos Hunter, who was killed by Vancouver, Wash., police in 2019. (Tony Overman/The News Tribune via AP, File)
Shanee Isabell calls out the name of her second cousin Charleena Lyles, Thursday, June 18, 2020, during a vigil for Lyles on the third anniversary of her death, in Seattle. Lyles was shot and killed by Seattle police. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Robyn Williams, sister of Byron Williams, cries during a news conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The family of 50-year-old Byron Williams, whose death in Las Vegas police custody after a bicycle chase in 2019 was ruled a homicide, is suing the city and four officers they accuse of wrongful death and civil rights violations. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Police stand guard as protesters rally at the Trump Tower, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Las Vegas, over the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a black man, died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
State Sens. Dallas Harris, foreground, and Melanie Scheible arrive at the Legislature on Friday, July 31, 2020 during the first day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. On paper, police reforms passed in Nevada in 2021 appeared expansive. But the Legislature's leading reformer, Harris, said she had to scale back the bills to get them passed. Ultimately, she says, it's up to the public and the police departments themselves to make sure change happens. (David Calvert/Nevada Independent via AP, Pool, File)
Stretch Sanders, center left, leads a "March on Washington" rally for police accountability and reform at a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in North Las Vegas, Nev., on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. The rally was held on the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Protesters raise their hands in front of a line of police officers during a rally in Las Vegas on June 1, 2020. Several protesters and self-described "legal observers" filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Las Vegas police. They claim excessive force and free speech violations during racial justice demonstrations following the death of a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
A police shield is displayed on a Lexington, Miss., police cruiser parked outside their facility near the town square, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. A civil rights and international human rights organization filed a federal lawsuit against local officials in Lexington, where they say police have "terrorized" residents, subjecting them to false arrests, excessive force and intimidation. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves stands with members of law enforcement during a news conference at the Walter Sillers Building in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Reeves held the press conference to recognize the sacrifices of state law enforcement officers during COVID-19. (Eric Shelton/The Clarion-Ledger via AP, File)
Darius Harris, 45, a construction worker, wipes his face as he speaks about being targeted by police in Lexington, Miss., during an interview in Tchula, Miss., on Oct. 21, 2022. He recalled being repeatedly harassed, threatened, and arrested by police and as a result, he avoids shopping or visiting his brother who lives in that small city. Harris is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that accuses the Lexington Police Department of subjecting Black residents to intimidation, excessive force and false arrests. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Protesters wave signs during a protest in Jackson, Miss., on Friday, June 5, 2020, over Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch's recent decision to drop a manslaughter charge against former Columbus Police Officer Canyon Boykin. Boykin, who is white, had been charged in the October 2015 shooting death of Ricky Ball., who is Black. Ball's family intended to deliver a letter to Fitch asking her to reopen the case but Capitol Police refused entry to the building, citing closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
Darius Harris, 45, a construction worker, speaks about being targeted by police in Lexington, Miss., during an interview in Tchula, Miss., on Oct. 21, 2022. He recalled being repeatedly harassed, threatened, and arrested by police and as a result, he avoids shopping or visiting his brother who lives in that small city. Harris is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that accuses the Lexington Police Department of subjecting Black residents to intimidation, excessive force and false arrests. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Alex Smith, 3, sits on the shoulders of his mother, Maya Teeuwissen, during a rally in downtown Jackson, Miss., on Saturday, June 6, 2020, in response to the recent death of George Floyd, and to highlight police brutality nationwide, including Mississippi. The Mississippi branch of Black Lives Matter coordinated the events to also encouraged the participants to push leaders to seek long term solutions to issues plaguing the African American community. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
Jarvis Dortch, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, and a former lawmaker, stands in the rotunda of the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Oct. 18, 2022. He believes there is little "appetite" for police reform in the state, especially with a Republican controlled state house and offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
In this image from body camera video, a police officer points his gun at Marcus-David Peters in Richmond, Va., on May 14, 2018. The naked, unarmed Black man was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer in 2018 during a psychiatric crisis. (Richmond Police via AP, File)
In this family photo, Princess Blanding, left, stands with her brother, Marcus-David Peters, in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 15, 2017. Peters, an unarmed Black man, was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer in 2018 during a psychiatric crisis. Virginia, once a reliably conservative state, flexed its then-new Democratic muscle after George Floyd’s death, passing a sweeping package of police reforms. But Blanding said the law she envisioned has been “watered down to the point that overall it is ineffective.” (Courtesy of Princess Blanding via AP, File)
Marchers for Marcus-David Peters shout as they head to Richmond Police headquarters from VCU's Siegel Center in Richmond, Va., on June 2, 2018. Around the U.S., protesters have been calling for prosecutors to take a second look at police killings of Black people, including Peters, who was shot May 14 by a Richmond police officer after a confrontation on Interstate 95. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)
The graffiti-smeared statue of Robert E. Lee and Traveller stand behind a traffic sign with "Marcus-David Peters Circle" on a handwritten sign below on the circle that surrounds the monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Peters, a Black man who was suffering a mental condition, was shot by a Richmond police officer on May 14, 2018. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, File)
Police take down protesters near Seattle Central Community College in Seattle on Saturday, July 25, 2020. A large group of protesters were marching Saturday in Seattle in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality and racial injustice. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Days before the first anniversary of Floyd’s killing, Washington’s Democratic governor signed one of the most comprehensive police reform packages in the nation, including new laws banning the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
Police had argued that some of the reforms went too far and would interfere with their ability to arrest criminals. The pushback didn’t stop after the new laws went into effect.
“There’s just that atmosphere of emboldened criminals and brazen criminality, and people telling law enforcement, ‘I know that you can’t do anything,’“ said Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Before the reforms, officers were generally allowed to use the amount of force necessary to arrest a suspect who fled or resisted.
Police had historically been allowed to use force to briefly detain someone if they had reasonable suspicion that the person may be involved in a crime. Under the new law, police could only use force if they had probable cause to make an arrest, to prevent an escape or to protect against an imminent threat of injury.
Police said the higher standard tied their hands and allowed suspected criminals to simply walk away when police stopped them during temporary investigative detentions.
Earlier this year, lawmakers rolled back some provisions, making it clear that police can use force, if necessary, to detain someone who is fleeing a temporary investigative detention. Police must still use “reasonable care,” including de-escalation techniques, and cannot use force when the people being detained are being compliant.
Some are pushing for additional rollbacks. In a video released last month, a group of sheriffs, police chiefs and elected officials urged people to call their legislators to ask them to lift some new restrictions on police pursuits. Some suspects are ignoring commands to pull over, they said, knowing police cannot chase them.
Current law prohibits police from engaging in a pursuit unless there is probable cause to believe someone in the vehicle has committed a violent offense or sex offense, or there is reasonable suspicion that someone is driving under the influence.
Carlos Hunter, a 43-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by police in 2019. His sister, Nickeia, said it was disheartening to see some of the laws amended after years of reform efforts.
“Any good the reforms that were in place did, they are going to try to undo in 2023,” she said.
“They are trying to roll back every gain that was made.”
On paper, the police reforms passed in Nevada in 2021 appeared expansive.
The public would get a statewide use-of-force database with information on deadly police encounters. Law enforcement agencies were mandated to develop an early-warning system to flag problematic officers. And officers had to de-escalate situations “whenever possible or appropriate” and only use an “objectively reasonable” amount of force.
A year later, a lack of funding and a failure to follow through have blunted the impact of the reforms.
The database doesn’t exist yet. The early-warning system wasn’t clearly defined, so some police departments said they’ve made no changes. And many law enforcement agencies already had de-escalation language in their use-of-force policies.
While the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the state’s largest, had enacted reforms before the new laws, little has changed in the daily operations of smaller police forces.
Sheriff Gerald Antinoro of Storey County, an area outside of Reno with an Old West mining past, said his department regularly updated its use-of-force policy and had its own “fail safes” to identify troubled officers.
“If you want my opinion, mostly it was feel-good legislation that somewhere along the lines, somebody thought they were making a huge difference,” Antinoro said. “It’s fluff and mirrors.”
Others are even more blunt.
The reforms are “a waste of time” said Brian Ferguson, undersheriff for rural Mineral County.
“I think it’s a way for a politician to say they made a change,” Ferguson said.
“It really hasn’t changed the way we’ve been operating.”
For this story, reporters at the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University contacted the largest police departments in Nevada, as well as the sheriff’s offices for each of the state’s 16 counties. Of the eight agencies that responded, a few said they made small changes, like tweaking their use-of-force policies to align with the new law.
Nevadans’ pro-police “Blue Lives Matter” sentiment and intense lobbying by prosecutors and police unions made it harder to pass reforms in Nevada than elsewhere, said Frank Rudy Cooper, director of the Program on Race, Gender & Policing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The pared-down reforms still face obstacles.
The Nevada Department of Public Safety waited more than a year before it received funding in August to begin collecting use-of-force data from all law enforcement agencies in the state. An estimate prepared by the software developer projected that costs associated with the data gathering would top $85,000. Details will include type of force and whether the civilian had a mental health condition or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Other aspects of Nevada’s police reforms lack clear enforcement mechanisms. No one, for example, oversees setting standards for how departments identify problematic officers.
“We were able to get ourselves out of that one,” said Mike Sherlock, executive director of the Nevada Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, the state’s regulatory agency for law enforcement. Sherlock said the commission worried about the labor needed to keep track of officers and a lack of specifics about what defines problematic behavior.
Meanwhile, no state agency is charged with tracking whether departments have updated their use-of-force policies.
The Legislature’s leading reformer, state Sen. Dallas Harris, said she had to scale back the bills to get them passed. Ultimately, she said, it’s up to the public and the police departments themselves to make sure change happens.
“I’m in the Legislature,” Harris said. “There’s only so far our reach extends.”
In Mississippi, where 38% of the population is Black, there is little political appetite for police reform -- and Republican state Sen. Joey Fillingane is clear when he explains why.
“The general feeling among my constituents in south Mississippi is we need to support police and thank them for the job they’re doing because crime is on the rise and they are standing between us and the criminal element,” he said.
But there are some who see a need for action.
Jarvis Dortch, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, was a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives when Floyd was killed. He watched as states around the country enacted a wide assortment of police reforms while no police accountability measures were approved in Mississippi.
“It’s disappointing,” Dortch said.
It is more than disappointing to Black people like Darius Harris who say their encounters with police are fraught because of racism.
For years, Harris would go into Lexington, Mississippi, four or five times a week, to visit his brother or go grocery shopping. These days, Harris said he goes 20 miles out of his way to buy food rather than set foot in the small city in the Mississippi Delta.
The reason, according to Harris, is that he is regularly targeted and threatened by Lexington police.
“It’s not worth the risk of being harassed,” said Harris, a 45-year-old construction worker.
Harris is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that accuses the Lexington Police Department of subjecting Black residents to intimidation, excessive force and false arrests.
Harris and his brother, Robert, were arrested on New Year’s Eve in 2021 as they shot off fireworks at Robert Harris’ house. The brothers were arrested again in April and charged with “retaliation against an officer” after they spoke out against the police department at a meeting, according to the lawsuit.
Lexington’s population of 1,600 is about 80% Black. The lawsuit alleges that Lexington is “deeply segregated” and controlled by a small group of white leaders. Also named as a defendant is former Police Chief Sam Dobbins, who was fired in July after he was heard on an audio recording using racial slurs and saying he had killed 13 people in the line of duty.
Attorneys for Dobbins acknowledge in court documents that the former chief was recorded “saying things he should not have said,” but argue that he did not violate the constitutional rights of the Harris brothers and the other plaintiffs.
The new police chief, Charles Henderson, is Black. He denied any racial bias on the part of his officers.
“Our police, we’re not prejudiced,” he said. “We definitely don’t stand behind any kind of racial profiling.”
Virginia, once a reliably conservative state, flexed its then-new Democratic muscle after Floyd’s death, passing a sweeping package of police reforms. Among them: legislation banning the use of chokeholds and no-knock search warrants.
A key part of the reform package was a bill to set up a new statewide framework giving mental health clinicians a prominent role in responding to people in crisis -- rather than relying on police. The law was named after Marcus-David Peters, an unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer in 2018 during a psychiatric crisis.
Advocates hoped the new law would minimize police participation in emotionally charged situations that they may not be adequately trained to handle and can end with disastrous results.
Five pilot programs began last year in various regions of the state, but some supporters of the law were disappointed when an amendment approved by the Legislature earlier this year gave localities with populations of 40,000 and under the ability to opt out of the system.
Peters’ sister, Princess Blanding, said the law she envisioned has been “watered down to the point that overall it is ineffective.”
The law allows each region to decide how to respond to mental health crises.
“This lack of consistency is very dangerous and it could be the difference between life and death,” Blanding said.
Before the program began, police would be dispatched to respond to mental health emergency calls to 911. After the new system launched in December, lower-risk calls began to be connected to the regional crisis call center but high-risk calls continued to be dispatched to police.
Now, where the system is active, “community care teams” made up of police and mental health professionals (also known as co-response teams) are dispatched by 911 under certain circumstances, when available.
Under the new system, mental health calls are assigned levels of urgency:
On a recent weekday, dispatchers at the Richmond Department of Emergency Communications Center received a call from a woman who said there was a schizophrenic homeless man screaming on her front porch. A co-response team made up of a police officer and a mental health clinician responded. The man told them he was trying to get out of the rain and didn’t mean any harm.
Another caller said someone told her to check herself into a mental ward. The dispatcher asked her if she was hurting anyone, including herself. “Nothing happened, but I’m going through a psychosis,” she said. The dispatcher transferred her to the 988 center.
The legislation allowing small communities to opt out was introduced by Republican lawmakers who said those localities worry they cannot afford to set up a new response system and to hire additional mental health workers. The General Assembly allocated $600,000 for each regional behavioral health authority in the state to implement the program, but some small communities say that is not enough.
Nine out of the 10 counties covered by the Middle Peninsula Northern Neck Community Services Board -- a sprawling area, roughly the size of the state of Delaware, along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay -- have decided to opt out, said Executive Director Linda Hodges.
“When this law was developed, they did not take these small rural communities into consideration,” Hodges said.
In the capital Richmond, John Lindstrom, chief executive officer of the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, said he is encouraged by the early results of the co-response teams.
Between Aug. 15 and Sept. 30, when the first of two co-response teams was activated, there were 69 calls. None resulted in arrests, the use of force or injuries. Nine people were taken into custody for involuntary hospitalization, and 87% were given referrals to community mental health providers.
“We’re not going to fix every bad outcome,” Lindstrom said, “but we want to further reduce them, to increase resources so people can have more confidence that if you call 911 or call 988 you’re going to get help, you’re not going to get hurt.”
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia; Monnay reported from College Park, Maryland; Rihl reported from Las Vegas. Rachel Konieczny in Phoenix and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis also contributed reporting.
This story is a collaboration among The Associated Press and the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Howard Centers are an initiative of the Scripps Howard Fund in honor of the late news industry executive and pioneer Roy W. Howard.
Contact Arizona State’s Howard Center at email@example.com or on Twitter @HowardCenterASU. Contact Maryland’s Howard Center on Twitter @HowardCenterUMD.