A national review by AP finds that six years after a wave of police killings of black men, most states still have not addressed what is perhaps the most pressing issue: police of use-of-force.

Calls for police reforms after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis were reminiscent of the calls to action after three black men were killed by police in 2014. 

So what happened after those killings? 

Ohio statehouse reporter Julie Carr Smyth, working with her statehouse colleagues around the country, found that while nearly half the states enacted some type of reforms in the years since, most failed to take action on one of the core issues: police use of force. 

In Ohio, where one of the 2014 killings took place, the legislature opted against turning use-of-force recommendations from a governor's task force into law – instead keeping the measures voluntary. In Pennsylvania, AP statehouse reporter Marc Levy noted that a legislative package seeking to limit justifications for the use of deadly force by police stalled in the state legislature, controlled by Republicans. AP’s review found that through 2018, only a third of states had passed legislation limiting use of force. 

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Demonstrators block Public Square in Cleveland, Nov. 25, 2014, during a protest over the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

AP Photo / Tony Dejak

Smyth’s story also used campaign contribution data compiled by state government reporter Geoff Mulvihill to call out one of the reasons why such legislation has stalled: politically influential police unions. Since 2016, groups representing police nationwide have contributed $1.3 million to candidates for governor and attorney general and given another $1 million or more for independent expenditures that support all candidates for state office.   

The story was enhanced by an analysis from data journalist Angel Kastanis and an accompanying graphic by Phil Holm, creative lead on the Top Stories Hub, showing how the Minneapolis Police Department disproportionately used force against blacks when compared with other racial groups.

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The day Smyth’s story moved, governors and lawmakers in a number of states made proposals to limit the use of deadly force, and these announcements were included in write-throughs. The story played well during a highly competitive week, used by nearly 300 AP customers, racking up 8,500 Facebook engagements and landing on a handful of front pages.

For quickly reporting out and leading a national look at what reforms have taken place in the last six years, Smyth wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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