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Friday, June 5, 2020
In: Police

06/05/20 Use of Force, Body Worn Cameras, Anti-Bias Policing

We recognize and understand the events in Minneapolis have localized your questions and concerns to our community regarding police force, racial bias in policing, training practices related to de-escalation and the use of body worn cameras.

We understand and agree with you, the conduct of those officers is appalling and indefensible.  Trust is the cornerstone in our profession and the answers you’re seeking are what build a strong relationship between police and the community they serve.   

USE OF FORCE: Westminster’s policy, training and expectations regarding an officer’s use of force are based on currently established state law and guidelines set forth in the United States Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor.  The premise of this decision is any force used must be objectively reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances.

Obviously the desire is to never use force at all. However, the need to use force in overcoming resistance is a reality in police work in a very small number of police contacts. Before an officer is faced with this situation, a long process is in place to ensure this is done legally and within policy standards. It starts with a strong hiring process and practice to identify men and women of sound character and principles rooted in a desire to serve.  When rare instances of misconduct occur the department responds swiftly to hold the officer accountable.  This may range from remedial training up to termination and filing of criminal charges.

USE OF FORCE REVIEW: The Westminster police department has two processes specifically in place to evaluate whether an officer’s use of force is reasonable.  An independent use of force report is completed by the supervisor documenting the circumstances of the incident and the force used by the officer.  This is reviewed by one of the department’s subject matter experts, command staff and a deputy chief.  The report is maintained in the officers file which is reviewed at least twice annually during our Early Warning System review.  This policy was instituted in 2004 and serves to ensure officer performance and conduct meet the expectations of the department.  This also ensures the department can intervene early to help an employee with job related stress and performance issues if a pattern emerges. This benefits the officer, department and citizens.     

In instances where there is an allegation of excessive force or where the department review process indicates potential excessive force, an internal investigation is started. In the case of an internal investigation, our citizen Complaint Review Team, established in 2004, reviews the investigation and provides opinion if it is thorough and complete, if violations of policy or procedure occurred and if they have questions or concerns. This review team consists of two department supervisors and two citizen members of our community. The Chief of Police uses their recommendations to help determine if misconduct occurred, and if so, what discipline is appropriate. 

ANTI-BIASED POLICING: In 2004, Westminster’s anti-bias based policing policy was established to unequivocally define that bias policing is unacceptable and will not be condoned or tolerated.  Officers receive anti-bias training in the academy and as a matter of ongoing training.  Ongoing training is conducted bi-annually to meet current Colorado law and P.O.S.T requirements.  The department has a dedicated hotline to report complaints or concerns of biased based police contacts. The hotline is monitored by the Professional Standards Unit and all allegations are investigated.  The telephone number is 303-658-4424.

DE-ESCALATION: The department’s focus and training on de-escalation occurs in a multitude of areas.  Training begins in the police academy and is taught annually to address legal requirements, approaches and techniques, considerations, case law as well as how it is incorporated in all police activity and interaction with the public.  Colorado law mandates training in: proper holds and restraints, anti-bias, community policing/ partnership and de-escalation.  Westminster uses internal instructors and hires professional experts to teach our officers.

BODY WORN CAMERAS: Before determining if Westminster would request funding to support a body worn camera program, Chief Carlson felt it was necessary to conduct comprehensive and in-depth research into their benefits and limitations.  Through this we identified several areas of focus which impact the decision.  Body worn cameras are a great tool, particularly in establishing trust and transparency within the community, but they are not the panacea.  In addition to independent sources, our research included expert opinion from the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Police Executive Research Forum.  A lengthy review has been conducted over the past year as well of all peer reviewed material related to body cameras, their effectiveness, and impacts on police/community relations.

Most agencies who deploy body worn cameras consider this best practice and many citizens believe they “tell the whole story.”  They can be used as a way to influence appropriate officer and citizen behavior.  Studies consistently noted they lead to a reduction in low level complaints against officers and most complaints are determined to be unfounded because the video exonerates the officer.  Since their inception in roughly 2014, views and concerns related to BWC have shifted, including the focus on infringements on First and Fourth Amendment rights and privacy considerations. 

For example, as noted in an IACP article dated January 16, 2020, “Maine’s Cautious Approach on Police Body Cameras Reflects National Trend”, the American Civil Liberties Union asked for a bill mandating every officer in the state wear a camera to be amended.  Opinion exists that requiring all officers wear cameras without further study is irresponsible.  It is paramount to us that we find the delicate balance between transparency and infringing upon your privacy.

Westminster firmly believes recruiting and hiring the right people, training them appropriately and holding them accountable when necessary is a crucial component of serving our community with integrity, professionalism and respect.  The next steps in our body worn camera research process is to conduct a citizen survey to measure the level of trust, accountability and transparency within the community.  This survey is currently being conducted by a private institution, the National Research Center and POLCO.  The survey is completed in two-parts: 3000 randomly selected residents followed by an opportunity for anyone to take the survey.  A link to take the survey and survey results will be posted in the coming weeks on our Facebook page and through NextDoor. The police specific survey focuses on the community feeling of trust, transparency and accountability of this department which are the key issues related to a body work camera program. The survey will be followed by input from city Councilors and community focus groups. Final determination is expected to be made later this year. 

 

These four topics are voluminous and difficult to address in an email.  We’re certain you may have additional questions or comments and we strongly feel open dialogue is essential to our ongoing effort to listen to our community and build upon the trust which currently exists.  We also recognize that events such as what occurred in Minneapolis strain that relationship, but we are committed to strengthen and enhance each day moving forward.  We are proud to be the men and women of Westminster, dedicated to serving you with pride, professionalism, dignity and respect. 

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