By Debbie Hall and Brandon Martin
Law enforcement heads denounced the behavior of the four Minneapolis law enforcement officers fired in connection with the death of an African American man.
“That is the single worst thing I’ve ever witnessed in my 26-years in law enforcement,” Smith said of a video that surfaced after the death of George Floyd, 46, who died May 25 at a Minnesota hospital.
The video showed a white police officer kneeling on an African American man’s neck, while ignoring the handcuffed man’s repeated pleas for air until first responders arrived at the scene. Floyd was unresponsive when he was placed on a stretcher.
The actions of the officers at the scene “set this profession back 10 years,” Smith said.
While he is not familiar with required training in other states, Smith said local officers are required to take and successfully pass Cultural Diversity classes.
“Whenever you work with the general public, diversity awareness is critical because we, as law enforcement, can’t properly do our jobs without being aware of our differences and building those relationships with the ones we serve,” Smith said.
“The training is meant to show the officer what it’s like (for others) to interact with officers” and from the perspective of someone who is not an officer, Smith said. “It teaches different perspectives and makes us a little more aware of ourselves.”
He added the classes are required every other year, and are considered part of the ongoing in-service training.
Additionally, Patrick County deputies and those in many adjacent areas, follow a mandated Continuum of Force, which limits the amount of force used to only what is needed.
“Once a suspect is handcuffed, if they’re still resisting, the level of force used typically decreases dramatically,” Smith said, adding that force is not used when there is no resistance. Then, “it turns into a matter of just trying to get the suspect into a secure area of the patrol car to transport.”
Local deputies have “respect for their fellow man and value human life,” Smith said, and added those qualities also are evident in surrounding jurisdictions, including the Martinsville Police Department, where Smith worked before he was elected sheriff.
“Even though we policed a city with an African American population of 40 and 45 percent, I’ve never felt that racial divide. I never felt that,” Smith said. “In fact, the West End of the city was my favorite part to work. Once you get past the open-air drug markets, robberies” and other crimes, and meet residents, “you find that many grew up there and love their home. I got to meet those residents and I loved the residents up there. I never felt that racial divide.”
He said he believes that “comes from the top,” and Smith recalled that then-chief Mike Rogers was loved and respected by all population segments in the city.
Current Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady has maintained that since during his tenure at the police department.
After watching the video of Floyd’s death, Cassady said “it was really hard to put (his feelings) into words. It’s very embarrassing for all the good officers who go out every day and do the right thing.”
Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper said that the incident was “definitely unacceptable. When anyone is restrained and the adrenaline drops, you have to step back and count to 10. You don’t ever want to overreact.”
Draper said all of the law enforcement in the area routinely receive refresher training in the use-of-force called “Defensive Tactics” at the Piedmont Criminal Justice Training Academy.
“And a lot of that training is aimed at de-escalation,” Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said. “A lot of it revolves around talking instead of acting. Law enforcement officers routinely come in contact with individuals with mental issues, or they may just be going through a rough point in their life, so you don’t need to immediately jump to a forceful action. If things start to go south, you can only use one ounce (of force) more than they are using.”
Perry said that the appropriate amount of force to use is determined by a continuum of force which can be slightly different from precinct to precinct.
For example, the force continuum in the Martinsville City Police Department revolves around the officer’s perceptions of the subject’s actions.
The continuum begins with “officer presence” as the initial diffuser. If the subject is compliant, then verbal commands are all that are needed. Low-level resistance is met with pressure point control or even pepper spray. Each increased level requires an increased amount of force executed by the officer with the final level being deadly force.
So how exactly does law enforcement learn to make these distinctions?
Martinsville Deputy Chief and Training Coordinator Robert Fincher said that “training isn’t ever static” and that officers are constantly integrating training through “roll call” training. This training typically comes in the form of videos or online modules.
All of the training builds on one another, according to Fincher, culminating in one of the latest courses developed by the Police Executive Research Forum called Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT).
ICAT is designed especially for situations involving persons who are unarmed or are armed with weapons other than firearms, and who may be experiencing a mental health or other crisis. It incorporates different skill sets into a unified training approach that emphasizes scenario-based exercises, as well as lecture and case study opportunities.
The course is broken down into six modules covering critical thinking, crisis intervention, communications, and tactics.
The scenarios that ICAT trains on are similar to the one that led to the death of Floyd. Fincher said that the maneuver used by the officer was “absolutely not taught” in their training.
He said he and his fellow officers who have seen the video “are all just disgusted by it.”
When asked what repercussions there are for these types of violations by law enforcement, Perry said that each case is evaluated internally. He said he receives all use-of-force complaints in the county–which are minimal–and decides on the proper recourse. Additionally, they can be reviewed externally, and by the courts as well.
Cassady said that use-of-force, or as the city calls it “response to resistance,” is valuable training, but that the only true way to prevent more of these incidents is for law enforcement to continue building positive relationships with the communities that they serve.
To help with this, Fincher said officers undergo implicit-bias training to help identify any preconceived notions that could interfere with the proper enforcement of the law.
There is a 1.5-day session for command-level personnel, or a “command-community” version that involves command personnel and community stakeholders. There are separate one-day versions for patrol officers, first-line supervisors and mid-managers. During the 2.5-day Training-of-Trainers session, agency trainers can learn to implement the patrol and supervisor curricula in their own agencies/academies.
Cassady said the city has had trouble recruiting African Americans to the force for years, adding that he would like to see the number of minority candidates increase.
“We do everything we can to achieve a diverse workforce,” he said. “We want to look like the community that we are serving so it’s an ongoing goal to keep recruiting a wide talent pool.”
Perry said that recruitment for the county “is going better. I would like to see numbers increase and expand into the Hispanic/Latino community as well.”
Four officers involved with the death of Floyd were fired on May 26. Riots and protests broke out in Minneapolis, calling on the arrest of the officers involved. Derek Chauvin, the primary officer involved in the incident, was arrested on May 29, according to Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington.
Chauvin was charged with third degree murder and manslaughter in connection with the incident.
Assistant Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dayna Kendrick Bobbitt said that while Minnesota and Virginia statutes differ, premeditation is required for a first-degree murder charge in Virginia.
“All murders are presumed to be second degree. In Virginia, the charge can be elevated to first degree if there is premeditation or other special circumstances,” she said, adding that she is unfamiliar with the laws in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the FBI are both investigating Floyd’s death.