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Portland, Lewiston Departments Prohibit Chokeholds, And The Maine Police Academy Doesn't Teach Them

Following the death of George Floyd and others in police custody, a spotlight has been fixed on the use of chokeholds and other neck restraints used by law enforcement. The “use-of-force” policies guiding how police departments in Maine’s two largest communities are similar in what they say about the use of chokeholds.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District released a statement on Monday announcing that she’s co-sponsoring a package of federal legislation that would, among other things, ban chokeholds, which are already prohibited in policies issued by police departments in Portland and Lewiston.

Portland’s use-of-force policy prohibits chokeholds and other restraints that would restrict the airway or blood circulation in the neck, except when deadly force is justified. Lewiston’s policy is similar.

Rick Desjardins is acting director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which provides 18 weeks of training for those who want to be law enforcement officers. Desjardins says that while the Academy teaches prospective officers how to escape chokeholds, it doesn’t instruct them in how to use them.

“We feel that a well-trained officer that uses appropriate proper techniques can take what could be a very ugly and disturbing scene and make it as effective and efficient as possible to take someone into custody who doesn’t want to go,” he says.

The Portland City Council’s Health and Human Services & Public Safety Committee is holding a remote meeting at which it expects an update on the department’s policies on use of force, body cameras, crisis intervention and other related issues.