GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids officials on Wednesday announced several changes to its policies on using force, notably saying they would explicitly ban chokeholds.

City Manager Mark Washington, Police Chief Eric Payne and Director of Oversight and Accountability Brandon Davis spoke about the policy changes at an afternoon press conference.

The Grand Rapids Police Department will improve its use of force policy within 60 days, they said. In addition to the ban on chokeholds — a practice Payne said had never been used — officers will be instructed to deescalate situations when possible by communicating and maintaining distance. Officers will be required to give a verbal warning and exhaust all other options when possible before using deadly force.

GRPD will also require officers to intervene when seeing other authorities using excessive force and report the incident to a supervisor.

The news conference was held a few hours before a digital town hall on policing, the second in two weeks.

Discussions on police relations have ramped up in Grand Rapids and around the country after a series of protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Former police officers face charges, including murder, in his death after one of them knelt on his neck.

“The tragic death of George Floyd can’t be in vain, changes have to be made,” Payne said at the news conference.

Recently, there have been several peaceful protests in Grand Rapids that have demanded racial equality and police reform. More than a week ago, a riot in the city’s downtown resulted in widespread property damage following one of those peaceful protests.

Several community members spoke up during the town hall regarding GRPD’s response to recent protests, disagreeing with the department’s decision to use tear gas on protesters. Payne defended the tactics used. 

“That was unprecedented and it really came down to having the resources to effectively and safely make arrests as the peaceful demonstration or rally turned into an unlawful assembly or riot,” Payne said. 

—News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.