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A Short History Of Carotid Restraint Holds

Cassidy Chansirik
Cassidy Chansirik Student at U.C. Berkeley
Hi! I'm Cassidy, a rising junior majoring in Legal Studies at U.C. Berkeley who is passionate about the law, helping others, and all things coffee!
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Carotid restraint holds history

When Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd's neck, he rendered him unconscious and killed him. 

That technique is called a carotid restraint hold, and police have been using the move to subdue suspects for a long time.  

Since Floyd's murder, many states and local police departments have announced that officers will no longer be allowed to use carotid restraint holds on any citizen. But some people still think they're the best way to subdue a person in custody.


What is the carotid restraint hold? 

The carotid restraint hold is a technique used by officers to restrict blood flow to a person’s brain by compressing the sides of the neck where the carotid arteries are located. 


The whole purpose of a carotid restraint hold is to render a person unconscious. Yes, you read that correctly. Making someone pass out is the goal.


Some people refer to carotid restraint holds as chokeholds. However, this is incorrect. 


Chokeholds restrict a person’s airway, whereas a carotid restraint hold restricts blood flow to a person’s brain. Chokeholds have been banned in large metropolitan police departments as early as the 1990s. However, some officers still do it. A chokehold is what led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014. A New York City police officer was suspended this week after he was caught on video putting a suspect in a chokehold.


When were carotid restraint holds introduced into police departments?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when police departments started using carotid restraint holds. Many police departments have not commented on their use-of-force policies and the information publicly available is out-of-date.  


But according to a 2007 Department of Justice survey, 46% of police departments that serve more than one million people do have a use-of-force policy that allows their police officers to use a hold or neck restraint. 


For police departments that do not allow their police officers to use holds or neck restraints, de-escalation and mediation techniques are recommended. The Dallas Police Department began using de-escalation policing in 2010. It works. There's been a decline in city-wide arrests, excessive force complaints and murders. 

After George Floyd's murder, carotid holds have been banned, right?


George Floyd’s murder has prompted states and local police departments to reform their practices and use of carotid restraint holds. 


Here are some key things happening in various states.



On June 4, 2020, Assemblyman Mike Gipson of the 64th District introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 1196


AB 1196 makes it illegal for police to use carotid restraint holds and chokeholds, which would build upon existing legislation that mandates restrictions on the use of lethal force


However, there is resistance to the bill. 


Brian Marvel, President of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, has spoken out about the need for the restraint hold. He argues that when used correctly, the restraint hold is an effective tactic to subdue arrestees and ensures the safety of officers. His association represents more than 77,000 officers and 930 associations


On a regional level, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has issued a moratorium on the use of carotid restraint holds in situations that do not require the use of deadly force. Los Angeles Unified School District followed suit and will fully eliminate the use of carotid restraint holds



At least 7 Florida law enforcement agencies have no explicit use-of-force policy on carotid restraint holds. 


But now, 14 agencies have changed their policies so that neck restraints are only used in situations where deadly force is justified. In place of the hold, officers must use to de-escalation techniques. This applies to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Broward County Sheriff’s Office, and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office among others. 



In response to George Floyd’s murder, Judge Karen Janisch has ordered the Minneapolis Police Department to stop the use of all neck restraint and chokeholds. 


Under the court order, the Minneapolis Police Department must implement the following: 

  • Stop using neck restraints and chokeholds
  • Report an officer using any unauthorized use of force, regardless of tenure or rank
  • Intervene verbally or physically if an officer is using any unauthorized use of force

New York

In 1993, the New York Police Department banned the use of chokeholds after the death of Federico Pereira while in police custody. However, it was unclear what the department classified as a chokehold. 


Furthermore, the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board found that the ban on chokeholds was not properly enforced by the department. 


To address this, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Senate Bill S6670B into effect. 

Known as the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, this bill punishes aggravated strangulation by up to 15 years in prison. 


According to the New York State Assembly, aggravated strangulation occurs when a police or peace officer uses a chokehold, applies pressure to a person’s throat or windpipe, and causes serious physical injury or death. 



Washington state Governor Jay Inslee released a statement announcing that he would like all police departments to restrict the use of chokeholds. 


For the Seattle Police Department, policies regulating chokeholds have already been in place. 


Since 2014, the Seattle Police Department has prohibited the use of neck and carotid restraint holds except when the use of deadly force is justified. If neck or carotid restraint holds are used, officers are instructed to place the person in the recovery position and seek immediate medical attention. 


More recently, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to ban the use of chokeholds and crowd control weapons by the Seattle Police Department. Additionally, uniformed officers will not be allowed to cover their badge serial number while on duty. 


Washington D.C. 

Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau recently announced that the city council unanimously passed a police reform bill.


In addition to banning chokeholds, the bill institutes a new policy on body cam footage. If there was an officer-involved fatality, body cam footage must be released within 72 hours. The officer involved is also prohibited from watching the body cam footage before writing their report.

Not sure what your city and state's policy on carotid restraint holds is? Write your mayor or alderman demanding that the information be made public. If the holds are still allowed, demand change. 



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