The Salem Police Department has received a few inquiries regarding how this department ensures that all in our diverse community are safe from similar shocking actions undertaken recently by four Minneapolis police officers. The hundreds of those in our community who have had the opportunity to attend our citizen police academies have been provided information about our processes, training and accountability of police behavior and conduct. I wanted to share this information with all of our community members, especially in light of the horrific incident and death of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of those sworn to enforce the laws and protect the public. The below letter was extracted from an email response to one of our city councilors who wanted to know how to answer a constituent.
Not unlike any other police department, the composition of our department reflects our community. We do our best to ensure those selected will be the best fit for our diverse community. Our screening and thorough background investigatory process is the first step to ensuring the candidates for police officer do not have any affiliations with organizations that are racist or prejudicial toward any group of persons within our community or have been involved in any incidents that would support any bias.
The second step is to ensure training in proper police protocols and techniques through an approved state training program with the Municipal Police Training Council. Once graduated, the officers spend eight to 12 weeks with a field training officer, who is one senior officer, and with a street sergeant who assess them daily and weekly on their performance; fairness and equitable treatment is relative to the evaluation for officer conduct. Then yearly, through state-mandated training and department-initiated training, officers receive instruction in implicit bias, biased-based policing, procedural justice and legitimacy, crisis intervention training, dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, police interactions with persons with mental health, mental health for the first responder and integrating communication, assessment and tactics (ICAT). These training programs bring to the forefront the issues of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation and persons with challenges.
Every year officers are trained in defensive tactics-use of force. The use of force model requires that above all, the objective reasonableness standard should be employed based on the totality of the circumstances and actions presented by the person in a case-by-case basis. There is not one response for every scenario, but it is weighted against the objective reasonableness standard to determine whether the officer used an excessive amount of force for the situation. For instance, someone passively resisting arrest will be met with the least amount of force to effect the arrest, not the most, as they would be in violation of our use of force policy. When the subjects actions allow, and tactics support it, less-than-lethal force options can be employed, so we reduce the necessity where lethal force is the only option available. The ICAT training provides for officers to step back, assess the issue, and distance to reduce escalating the situation. It is patience and using all the possible resources available that will ensure a successful outcome on a call.
Officers receive training in stress in policing and stress and PTSD with veterans. This includes methods for recognizing the signs of stress and in identifying healthy ways to address it, but it also highlights the numerous programs available to provided assistance for themselves or others when needed.
We employ a process of transparency in our roles and responsibilities by utilizing the Citizens Police Academy to share with our community what we do, how we do it and how we are guided by the law, proper police practices and our own rules and regulations and policies and procedures. Officers are assigned to attend neighborhood meetings so they are known to the public and they know the people of the community and all understand the unique issues to be faced.
Lastly, we also employ an open complaint process that can be obtained online, walk-in or by telephone. The department has a system that monitors the complaints against officers. The system is established to determine if there is a pattern of conduct that requires intervention by the department for training or for mental health assistance through the City Employee Assistance Program or other professionals as needed or other action is required. This complaint process is tied to a progressive disciplinary process where officers are required to adhere to the legal, ethical and department standards in place and given an opportunity to correct poor decisions or behavior. However, there are times that conduct is so egregious that only separation from service will assure that we are not putting the public at risk.
We can only be successful as police in our community if the community we police has faith and confidence in our ability to be fair and impartial and that its members conduct themselves in a manner that is right and just.
We in law enforcement are held to a high standard – a standard that unfortunately, some officers, such as those involved in the Minneapolis incident, failed to achieve. As a profession, we need to take immediate action when we learn of any violations of the public trust.
We have worked hard here at the Salem Police Department to build trust with our community. Incidents like what occurred in Minneapolis undermines public trust and confidence in their local police department and by extension, the law enforcement profession as a whole. We are proud of the work we have done and the improvements we’ve made here in Salem. But the incident that occurred in Minneapolis will set us back. I recognize that, as does my command staff and the officers on the street.
All of us who wear, or have worn, the uniform know that the death of Mr. George Floyd only reinforces that we, as a profession, have a long way to go to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly.
Mary E. Butler is the chief of the Salem Police Department.