All Maine law enforcement agencies are now required to have policies that prohibit the use of chokeholds or similar tactics when they arrest or restrain people, require officers to intervene if they see other officers using excessive or unnecessary force, and adopt a handful of other rules outlining how and when police use force in the face of resistance.

On Friday, the Board of Trustees of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which trains and certifies Maine law enforcement officers, changed its minimum standards for police departments to follow “to give better guidance to law enforcement officers in Maine,” according to a Tuesday statement from the academy.

The announcement follows weeks of protests denouncing police brutality and a June 12 Bangor Daily News story illuminating how use-of-force rules differ across Maine’s largest police departments, with some stricter than others. Now, all local law enforcement policies on use of force must say that: 

— police cannot use of chokeholds to arrest, restrain or control people “unless deadly force is authorized”;

— officers must intervene and report to superiors when they see any other officer using unreasonable or unnecessary force;

— police are prohibited from firing a gun at a moving vehicle “unless deadly force is authorized”;

— police are required to de-escalate situations “when feasible”;

— police may “never” use excessive force;

— police must monitor people in their custody for injury or medical distress, and request emergency medical aid any time people appear injured; and

— police must recognize the common causes of “ excited delirium,” (a condition that has led to people’s death after being restrained or taken into police custody), the dangers it presents to officers and those suffering from it, and the dangers of positional asphyxia, which is when someone’s position prevents them from breathing.

Maine law enforcement agencies are also now required to report any complaint of bias-based profiling to the Maine attorney general’s office. Attorney General Aaron Frey proposed the idea in a March report to the Maine Legislature.

Police may have already been following these rules, but they were not always expressly stated in local police departments’ policies, the academy said.

That’s also what police leaders said earlier this month when the Bangor Daily News analyzed the use-of-force policies of Maine’s four largest police agencies. While the departments mostly follow similar rules, they differ in some key ways. For instance, the Bangor and Lewiston police departments, as well as the Maine State Police, do not explicitly require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers, while rules in Portland require officers there to intervene.

But that doesn’t mean officers in Bangor, Lewiston and with the state police wouldn’t intervene simply because their policy didn’t explicitly say to. “The duty to intervene is implied in the policy that includes our Code of Ethics,” Bangor police Chief Mark Hathaway said at the time.

In addition, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy did not teach cadets how to restrain members of the public by using chokeholds prior to explicitly banning the tactic.

Now, however, the rules will be more spelled out. Advocates have called for stronger standards governing use of force, such as those now required in Maine, in the years since the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized calls for police accountability.

The changes come nearly a month after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for nearly nine minutes as he gasped for air and died. The May 25 killing sparked weeks of protests over police brutality across the globe, including in Maine, where police have faced heightened scrutiny over how they do their jobs.

State and local police agencies are allowed to craft their own policies but are required to build off the minimum standards set forth by the board of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.