Bucks County residents show bipartisan support for police reforms, including chokehold ban

Bucks County town hall on police reform proposals

Saturday's town hall broke down varying levels of community support for police reform proposals.

A survey of hundreds of Bucks County residents has found bipartisan support for a list of police reform proposals.

The results were unveiled Saturday morning, as several dozen Bucks residents joined a virtual town hall organized by nonpartisan civic engagement organizations and two local newspapers. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-01) joined, as well.

During the roughly two-hour-long event, Dr. Steven Kull, who directs the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, shared the results of a detailed survey taken by 437 county residents.

“All the proposals were drawn from the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” Kull said, referring to a bill in Congress legislating specific reforms.

Each respondent was presented with arguments for and against specific policy changes to policing, including chokehold bans, use of force, body cameras, qualified immunity, implicit bias training, no-knock warrants, a national registry for officer misconduct, and more. The company Precision Samples recruited a representative pool of Bucks County residents.

Bucks County town hall on police reform proposals
All of the proposals discussed were drawn from the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the U.S. House and awaits deliberation in the Senate.

The least controversial measure was the implementation of body cameras for police officers. Among the Bucks County survey respondents in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, 85% of people support such a measure, including 91% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans.

There were similar levels of bipartisan support for policies establishing duty to intervene protocols, setting up a nationwide police misconduct registry, and policies emphasizing de-escalation, a ban on chokeholds, and mandatory implicit bias training for officers.

Some policies were more divisive, including whether there should be a ban on no-knock warrants, like the kind used by Louisville police when they killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her home. Just 47% of Republicans support banning the practice, compared to 82% of Democrats.

Still, every one of the proposals respondents were asked about had a majority of support.

The data was broken down only by political affiliation, not other demographic data like race, income, sex or age.

“We must move the Legislative process and negotiations forward, so we can begin to repair that social contract that exists between police officers and communities that they serve,” said Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent and one of just three Republicans to vote in favor of the House bill, which passed in late June.

“There needs to be some sort of law enforcement reform,” he added.

Attendees of the town hall came from a range of backgrounds. Most, though not all, were older and white. Residents asked questions about specific policy proposals, as well as the methodology involved in the survey process. Most appreciated the depth of the exercise, spoke of learning from the process and enjoying conversations with other participants, even when opinions diverged.

Some raised issues that did not appear in the survey.

“Bucks County [communities] are very diverse, but I find that that is not represented on the police force,” said a woman who identified as Joyce H. “How can the police have a good rapport with the community if they are not representative of the community?”

Police chiefs across Bucks have begun discussing the possibility of establishing consistent use-of-force protocols across departments.

“There is a difference between Northern Bucks and Southern Bucks, just in how the policing does happen, as well as the training,” said Danny Thomas, executive director of the Peace Center, a local organization focused on violence reduction and social justice.

Thomas pointed out that all the police departments in Bucks have committed to a training program on implicit bias, working in partnership with the district attorney’s office and community groups.

This particular town hall is part of the Citizen Panel Initiative, an effort between Common Ground Solutions, Voice of the People, and University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation. In the past, they’ve had panels focused on issues like immigration and tax policy in other cities around the country. Organizers reached out to Shane Fitzgerald, executive editor of the Bucks County Courier Times, who recommended they focus their survey on police reforms.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act awaits deliberation in the U.S. Senate.

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