(Updates 11/4 story to add election results.)
Voters in communities across the country opted for measures to increase oversight of their police departments in the wake of the George Floyd killing, including a plan in Columbus, Ohio, to create a civilian review board to investigate allegations against officers.
“There’s a sense of urgency,” said Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and author of “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”
Voters in over a dozen cities and counties weighed measures in Tuesday’s election to overhaul law enforcement practices in their jurisdictions, including mandating the release of body-cam footage after use-of-force incidents, directing police funding to community programs, and giving new powers to police review boards.
Many of the measures passed, while votes were still being counted in some cities and counties Thursday afternoon.
“These measures set up mechanisms for more structural and systemic accountability,” said Maria Ponomarenko, co-founder and counsel of The Policing Project and associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, “and can help identify problems before they happen.”
Columbus was the largest city in the U.S. without a civilian review board, according to City Council President Shannon Hardin. “A large part of our Columbus community wants this. This is the will of the people,” Hardin said.
Butler called voter initiatives “a direct form of democracy where citizens can usurp lawmakers and take matters into their own hands.”
The May 25 death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, and the deaths of other Black men and women in police incidents, sparked protests demanding changes in how officers interact with suspects. Voters across the country considered proposals to beef up oversight of law enforcement:
- An initiative (Measure S1) in Oakland, Calif., to expand the powers of the Oakland Police Commission and create an Office of the Inspector General to review and report on the police department passed by about 81% to 19%. The commission would have subpoena power and the final say over any changes to policing policies.
- A San Francisco measure (Proposition D) to create a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board and Office of Inspector General passed by about 67% to 33%.
- An initiative on San Diego’s ballot (Measure B) would replace the Community Review Board on Police Practices with a new authority with subpoena powers and independent legal counsel. Voters approved it by about 75% to 25%.
- Voters in San Jose, Calif., approved an initiative (Measure G) to expand the independent police auditor’s powers to allow reviews of police-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents that result in death or injury. The measure passed by about 78% to 22%.
- A King County, Wash., measure (Amendment 1) to require an investigation into all police-related deaths and provide public attorneys to represent victims’ families in investigations passed by about 81% to 19%. Voters in the county approved another initiative (Amendment 4) to allow the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight to subpoena witnesses and evidence when investigating officers by about 83% to 17%.
- Portland, Ore., voters passed an initiative (Measure 26-217) to create a new oversight board with subpoena powers to investigate complaints against officers. The measure was approved by about 82% to 18%.
- In Kyle, Texas, voters passed, by about 77% to 23%, a measure (Proposition F) to create a committee to review the police department’s policies, and require the police chief to release an annual report on the department’s operations.
- In Philadelphia, a ballot measure (Question 1) that would ban police officers in the city from using stop-and-frisk was passing by 82% to 18% with 98% of election divisions reporting on Thursday. An initiative (Question 3) that would create a new oversight board, the Citizens Police Oversight Commission, with subpoena powers and authority to retain its own legal counsel, was passing 78% to 22%.
- A ballot question in Pittsburgh (Ordinance 2020-0447) would expand the powers of the Independent Citizen Police Review Board to require officers to participate in investigations and conduct audits of the Police Bureau. The measure was passing by about 78% to 22% with 99% of precincts reporting on Thursday.
- Sonoma County, Calif., voters approved a proposal (Measure P) to expand the powers of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach board to review every incident of force involving a sheriff’s deputy and recommend discipline for officers. The measure passed by about 67% to 33%.
Supporters of approved measures said they would bring more accountability to police departments.
“The Oakland Police Department has had a problem,” said Regina Jackson, chair of the Oakland Police Department Commission. “Black people specifically get abused sometimes for no reason and have certainly been dying for no reason.”
“This is a movement about justice for Black and Indigenous people of color and that means rooting out institutional racism in law enforcement and making sure people are safe,” said King County Council member Dave Upthegrove (D).
Counties also considered changes to law enforcement funding.
- A proposal in Los Angeles County, Calif., (Measure J) to mandate that a portion of tax revenues go to “community investment and alternatives to incarceration” passed by about 57% to 43%. It could provide as much as $490 million annually for programs, including pre-trial non-custody services, and mental health services.
- DuPage County, Ill., voters approved a measure for the county to continue treating law enforcement and public safety as the top budget priority (Referendum Question 1) by about 74% to 26%. A measure to continue funding for training practices that reduce the risk of injury to officers and potential suspects (Referendum Question 3) passed with about 90% to 10%.
Other proposals addressed police policies and staffing.
- Akron, Ohio, voters approved a ballot measure (Ordinance 225-2020) to require the police department to release video footage from body and dashboard cameras after a use-of-force death or serious injury. The measure passed by about 89% to 11%.
- In Washington, D.C., a measure (Initiative 81) to make the investigation and arrest of adults using entheogenic plants and fungi among the police department’s lowest priorities passed by about 76% to 24%.
- A proposal in King County, Wash., to make the sheriff appointed rather than elected (Amendment 5) passed by about 57% to 43%. Voters also approved a measure for the county council to specify the duties of the sheriff (Amendment 6) by about 63% to 37%.
- San Francisco voters, by about 72% to 28%, passed a ballot measure (Proposition E) that would eliminate a requirement that 1,971 full-time officers be on the police force.
Norman Yee, San Francisco Board of Supervisors president and the provision’s author, said the city needed more flexibility to determine police staffing. Yee said he worked with police “to come up with a matrix that’s based on best practices to see how many police officers we really needed.”
“We want to make sure victims and co-victims of violence have a seat at the table and that they are a priority as it relates to public policy in the city of Philadelphia,” said City Council member Kenyatta Johnson, a supporter.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ayanna Alexander in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org