With Congress exploring legislation that would reshape what policing should look like in America following the death of George Floyd, the head of the nation's largest law enforcement union says he agrees with the growing consensus over the need for reform.
"Just look at what's happening in our country right now," Patrick Yoes, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in an interview Wednesday with NPR's Morning Edition. "We have emotions that are so high on both sides of this issue. And in the middle, there's an area where we all agree, and I'm confident that we all agree that we need to have some reform. We need to have some discussions on how to improve what we're doing."
His remarks follow the unveiling by Congressional Democrats on Monday of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 — legislation that would prohibit the use of chokeholds, lower the legal standards to pursue civil and criminal cases against police and create a national registry to track police misconduct. Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, are also exploring options for reform.
On the issue of chokeholds, Yoes said the union is looking for a more consistent model of standards across departments, and pointed to one standard he agreed with, which includes a ban on chokeholds.
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"Chokeholds are not in the consensus model standards that are adopted throughout this country. But not every agency uses that model," Yoes said. "And so we would like to see some type of standardization of models across this country. We think we feel that the consensus model, which was created by the majority of law enforcement, recognizing the correct and proper way to have this use of force continuum is the best model."
Yoes also signaled measured support for the creation of a registry to track misconduct, saying if due process can be preserved, then the union is "not opposed."
"Our concern falls in the manner in which it's done. Across this country there is a lack of consistency on how this would be applied. So if we can find a national standard with a due process ... to make sure that the system is fair, then we absolutely are and we always have been. The problem has always been in the lacking consistency across this country."
Amid nationwide protests over police violence, unions are under intense criticism from advocates who say they have consistently stood in the way of past attempts at reform. In an interview Saturday with NPR, Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, said police unions "are extraordinarily reluctant to embrace reforms."
Asked about such criticism, Yoes said, "Our responsibility is to provide the best quality law enforcement we can."
"If you look across the country, you'll see law enforcement agencies who truly get it. They have the correct mixture of services in support in the community because they built that trust, because they run professional agencies, they take into consideration all of these factors. And I think that's what we need to do, is take a good, hard look at places that truly get it and how they've been able to jump ahead of this and not have the problems we see in other cities."
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