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East Tenn. law enforcement agencies respond to “8 Can’t Wait” initiative

East Tennessee law enforcement agencies discuss "Use of Force" policies, as activists push for...
East Tennessee law enforcement agencies discuss "Use of Force" policies, as activists push for reform and the "8 Can't Wait" initiative.(Gray News)
Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 12:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 5:23 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, thousands across the country are protesting demanding police reform and racial equality.

Floyd was an unarmed man killed in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes while three other officers stood by, without intervening.

Police were arresting Floyd for allegedly trying to pay with a fake $20 bill.

One online campaign gaining lots of traction is the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative. Activists are encouraging law enforcement agencies to adopt the initiative moving forward if they have not already.

The initiative was created by the nonprofit police reform organization Campaign Zero. The organization said if police adopt eight policies they can decrease police violence by 72 percent.

“Research shows more restrictive use of force policies can reduce killings by police and save lives," the initiatives website said.

Campaign Zero launched the initiative based on its 2016 study that examined the use of force policies of 91 departments in 100 of the United States’ largest cities.

The eight initiatives are listed below.

1. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds- Allowing officers to choke or strangle civilians, in many cases where less-lethal force could be used instead, results in the unnecessary death or serious injury of civilians.

2. Require de-escalation- Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.

3. Require warning before shooting- Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.

4. Exhaust all other means before shooting- Require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means before resorting to deadly force.

5. Duty to intervene- Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor.

6. Ban shooting at moving vehicles- Restrict officers from shooting at moving vehicles, which is regarded as a particularly dangerous and ineffective tactic.

7. Require a use of force continuum- Develop a Force Continuum that limits the types of force and/or weapons that can be used to respond to specific types of resistance.

8. Require comprehensive reporting-Require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians.

We reached out to several law enforcement agencies in East Tennessee to get their take on the campaign. Many have already adopted some of eight policies. Read their full responses below.

Knoxville Police Department

<i>"Most of the practices and policies recommended by the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign are already in place at the Knoxville Police Department, including the exhaustion of all other means before resorting to the use of deadly force, required de-escalation, required reporting for instances of use of force, and policy and training that details when increased levels of force can be utilized. KPD’s full Use of Force Policy is publicly available online. The KPD is re-assembling its Use of Force Committee to review the policy and ensure that it is consistent with the best practices, including those of the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign. With input from City of Knoxville leadership and the public, the KPD is committed to developing policies that accurately address the concerns of our community and help safeguard and strengthen the trust of the residents we serve."</i>

Knox County Sheriff’s Office

“I have no plans on changing any of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office policies, I reviewed all polices/general orders when I took office in September of 2018,” Sheriff Tom Spangler said.

Blount County Sheriff’s Office

<i>"Ban chokeholds and strangleholds- We do NOT authorize this unless deadly force is justified.

Require de-escalation- We train on this each year during in-service, and most of our patrolmen have gone through 40 hours of CIT training.

Require warning before shooting- We have a policy that addresses this.

Exhaust all other means before shooting- We have a policy that addresses this. A deputy is authorized to use deadly force when it is objectively reasonable under the totality of circumstances.

Duty to intervene- We require this.

Ban shooting at moving vehicles- We have a policy that addresses this. However, there are exceptions if a person in the vehicle is threatening the deputy or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle, or the vehicle is operated in a manner deliberately intended to strike a deputy or another person, and all other reasonable means have been exhausted (or are not present or practical), which includes moving out of the path of the vehicle.

Require a use of force continuum- We do not use a use of force continuum, and haven't in at least 10 years. It is based on what is objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.

Require comprehensive reporting- We do have a policy that requires a use of force report when use of force is used."</i>

Oak Ridge Police Department

The short answer is ORPD already follows all of these practices. We were not aware of the #8CantWait initiative until you reached out to us. Following George Floyd’s death, our department began reassessing procedures and conducting a comprehensive review of our polices to clarify some language. “We are constantly looking to make sure our practices and our policies are consistent with each other,” Oak Ridge Police Department Chief Robin Smith said. “Although, we conduct an annual review of our policies, we are continuously looking for ways to improve.”

Anderson County Sheriff’s Office

“It appears this organization/movement has moved their priority from the initiatives listed below to something else," Sheriff Russell Baker said. "After research, the organization who is pushing #8CantWait is now pushing efforts to defund the police. Our office is emphatically opposed to anyone or any organization advocating the defunding and dismantling of law enforcement. It would be disastrous not only for Anderson County, but the entire country. As for the policy initiatives below, several were in place prior to the #8cantwait movement. As for initiatives 1, 3, 5 and partially 8…they are not enacted policies. We have a policy committee that meets monthly to review current policies and if needed, introduce proposed policies that focuses on the safety of our citizens and employees. “

Cocke County Sheriff’s Office

<i>"In law enforcement officers are faced with many situations where people become violent and combative. We also encounter people who violate the law are arrested and resist in different degrees. There is no one response that will work for every situation. But there does exist appropriate force, justifiable force and reasonable force.

I will start off by saying the situation with George Floyd BASED ON ALL THE FACTS AS I KNOW THEM; the type of force that was used was excessive. I question WHY was the officers on top of him for eight minutes and why did the one officer have his knee on Floyds neck. Why did the officers not readjust Floyds physical position as he was clearly stating he could not breathe and he was cuffed behind his back.

The other facts released were that Floyd had apparently passed a counterfeit $20.00 bill and did initially resist arrest. It was a misdemeanor offense that could have been handled by issuing a citation; every criminal offense should not result in arrest.

The final autopsy says Floyd had heart disease and a history of high blood pressure. It includes a more complete toxicology report that said Floyd had evidence of several drugs in his blood and urine, including morphine, fentanyl, cannabis and methamphetamine, although not all of the tests were reliable. These facts along with the officers actions would have resulted in the death any person regardless of color or gender.

So I ask what evidence is there, what facts are there, what proof is there that this case involved racial motivation on behalf of the officers. Did the officers make racial statement or do something in a racist manner? If there is I would love to know.

Ban chokeholds and strangleholds-

POLICY:

It is the policy of the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office that police officers shall only use REASONABLE amount of force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives.

USE OF FORCE:All members who encounter situations in which the possibility of violence or resistance to lawful arrest is present, shall, if possible, attempt to remedy the situation through advice, persuasion or warning. If this attempt fails or circumstances do not permit their use, then the officer shall react to the situation using REASONABLE force necessary in neutralizing the incident. Based on the escalation of events, an officer shall first attempt to resolve the incident through the following events. However when circumstances will not allow for the progressive escalation, an officer shall use the force necessary in meeting the threat.

  • Officer presence
  • Verbal Command
  • Compliance holds
  • Taser- Taser use of force guidelines SHALL be followed see pg. 96-100

Chemical agent

  • Mechanical compliance
  • Hands and feet impact
  • Impact Baton
  • Lateral Vascular Restraint
  • Deadly force – when policy criteria is met

8.Lateral Vascular Restraint. May be used on resisting individuals who pose a threat to others, themselves, or are acting violently, who pose a threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another. The officer may only use the LVR when trained to do so. “Training in the use of LVR is required”

“If you pass a law that bans chokeholds, “Lateral vascular restraint” and an officer gets into a serious situation with a violent offender who is attempting to seriously injure or kill the officer then you are taking away a type of force that should be used as a last resort that could save a life. You are also creating a biased standard which regardless of the outcome the county and officer are financially negligent. Choke holds should not be used in minor offenses or in cases where there is minor resistance, but it is a different story when a life is at risk.”

Require de-escalation-

Policy States

USE OF FORCE:All members who encounter situations in which the possibility of violence or resistance to lawful arrest is present, shall, if possible, attempt to remedy the situation through advice, persuasion or warning. If this attempt fails or circumstances do not permit their use, then the officer shall react to the situation using REASONABLE force necessary in neutralizing the incident. Based on the escalation of events, an officer shall first attempt to resolve the incident through the following events. However, when circumstances will not allow for the progressive escalation, an officer shall use the force necessary in meeting the threat.

We train our officers to attempt to deescalate situations through self-restraint, calmness, verbal persuasion, and we train our officers to not allow their emotions to dictate their actions. It is tough to deal with an individual who are acting out, verbally assaulting others and ourselves, we are called to be professionals but we are not called to be punching bags.

Require warning before shooting-

DEADLY FORCE

An officer need not retreat or desist from efforts to make a lawful arrest because of active, threatened, or passive resistance. Officers must remain cognizant that a primary law enforcement responsibility is to protect life and property. An officer is justified in the use of that force which he or she reasonably believes necessary as self-defense or defense of others from bodily harm or to affect an arrest. However, an officer is justified in using deadly force only under the following circumstances:

Deadly force is permissible only when the officer has reasonable belief that the action in necessary in defense of human life, the officer’s own life, or necessary in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious bodily injury.

A fleeing felon shall not be presumed to propose an immediate threat to life in the absence of actions that would lead one to believe such is the case.

Deadly force is not permissible to stop a non-violent fleeing felon or misdemeanant, nor to protect property.

Shooting at or from a moving vehicle is prohibited in all instances except when the driver poses a threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another. The officer SHALL notify the shift supervisor of their speed, traffic, by standards, location and have permission to use such force granted by the supervisor.

Officers shall not fire warning shots.

ORAL WARNING

When deadly force is to be used, an officer should, if possible, give oral notice of a warning of the intention to use deadly force.

There are many situations where officers are forced to use deadly force by the deadly actions of a violent offender and there is no time to give any type of verbal command. SOME People who do not work in our profession who do not experience the challenges we face, expect us to have superhuman powers when we are dealing with situations that are rapidly evolving in split seconds. For example if you put in place an officer Shall give a verbal warning before every shooting then there is an officer-involved incident where there was no time to give verbal commands the officer and county would automatically be held liable even if the force was justifiable. We train to deescalate, we train to provide space and distance, and we train to use non-lethal means if possible, as stated before there is not one standard of one fix for every situation as all situations are unique in their own way.

Exhaust all other means before shooting-

DISCUSSION:The value of human life is immeasurable in our society. Police officers have been delegated the awesome responsibility to protect life and property and apprehend criminal offenders. The apprehension of criminal offenders and protection must, at all times, be subservient to the protection of life. The officer’s responsibility for protecting life must include his or her own.

USE OF FORCE:All members who encounter situations in which the possibility of violence or resistance to a lawful arrest is present, shall, if possible, attempt to remedy the situation through advice, persuasion or warning. If this attempt fails or circumstances do not permit their use, then the officer shall react to the situation using REASONABLE force necessary in neutralizing the incident. Based on the escalation of events, an officer shall first attempt to resolve the incident through the following events. However, when circumstances will not allow for the progressive escalation, an officer shall use the force necessary in meeting the threat.

  • Officer presence
  • Verbal Command
  • Compliance holds
  • Taser- Taser use of force guidelines SHALL be followed see pg. 96-100

Chemical agent

  • Mechanical compliance
  • Hands and feet impact
  • Impact Baton
  • Lateral Vascular Restraint
  • Deadly force – when policy criteria are met

If you put in place a policy that an officer should exhaust all other means before using deadly force you will create a mindset where officers will second guess their every action, struggle to deal with violent life-threatening situations, and ultimately the number of officers killed in the line of duty will increase drastically. Such a requirement would require an officer to pull his pepper spray as a violent felon points a gun at such an officer.

Duty to intervene-

  • Abuse of authority:

a. Under no circumstances shall an employee mistreat a subordinate or the general public, or threaten to do so (i.e. extortion, bribery, blackmail, threaten).

b.No employee shall be guilty of oppression, favoritism, or willful wrong or injustice.

c.No employee shall allow personal feelings to influence him/her in dealing fairly in any matter which he/she is called to handle.

  1. Confidential information- official business:

a. Confidential information shall not be divulged or disseminated without proper authorization from the Sheriff or his/her designated representative.

b.Any information coming to the attention of an employee which may be or may become Sheriff’s Office business or which may in any way reflect or bring discredit upon the Sheriff’s Office or any or its employees shall be brought to the attention of their superiors at the earliest possible time.

  • The transmission of any such information to a superior shall be deemed to fulfill the requirements of this rule and shall make it incumbent upon said superior to transmit such information through the chain-of-command.

Although we do not have a policy that specifically words that an officer should intervene in a situation, we do train our officers to protect all persons we deal with. We train our officers to NOT abuse people. We train our officers to not tolerate other officers abusing people but to intervene if needed.

Ban shooting at moving vehicles-

Deadly force is permissible only when the officer has reasonable belief that the action is necessary in defense of human life, the officer’s own life, or necessary in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious bodily injury.

A fleeing felon shall not be presumed to propose an immediate threat to life in the absence of actions that would lead one to believe such is the case.

Deadly force is not permissible to stop a non-violent fleeing felon or misdemeanant, nor to protect property.

Shooting at or from a moving vehicle is prohibited in all instances except when the driver poses a threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another. The officer SHALL notify the shift supervisor of their speed, traffic, by standards, location and have permission to use such force granted by the supervisor.

Once again there is not a one single solution for every situation. If you put a policy in place that bans shooting at a moving vehicle then you are in essence putting a law in place that does not allow officers to use appropriate justified force in deadly situations.

Here is a good example to look at is such a policy existed. These men were heavily armed, a threat to all citizens, and such a policy would have endangered the lives of all citizens and officers involved. (Sheriff Armando Fontes referred to a shootout between heavily armed bank robbers and LAPD back in 1997.)

Once again we must always look at force situations as was the officers actions reasonable and justified.

Require a use of force continuum-

We do have a continuum that calls for reasonable force

Require comprehensive reporting-

We require our officers to fill out a use of force report for every type of force used. This holds the officers accountable and allows for supervisory review of the officer’s actions.

Policy

DUE CARE

When deploying an ECD or using force officers shall use due care for the safety of bystanders, use of force reports SHALL be filled out when force is used or ECD are deployed. In the event an offender is behind the wheel of a running vehicle the officer shall take into consideration the risk of the vehicle going out of control and striking bystanders.</i>

We are waiting for additional responses from other agencies. Will will update this story when we hear back from them.

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