In response to attention placed on local police nationwide since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Richardson Police Department (RPD) Chief Jim Spivey was asked to brief the Richardson City Council on the department's policies, training practices, community engagement, and transparency initiatives. The briefing took almost two and a half hours. Here are my takeaways.
First let me say I was pleased to learn that RPD's policies are already broadly in line with the recommendations of the #8CantWait campaign to reform police departments.
The scorecard on Richardson meeting the ten reforms identified by a Dallas coalition of community activists and faith leaders to reverse generations of injustice is less satisfying, but to be fair, many of those demands are for joint city (of Dallas) and county action, and even the demands placed on the city (of Dallas) require city council action, not the police department alone. Still, the City of Richardson should examine these reforms and formulate and publicize a City position.
Now the news. Probably in response to public interest in transparency, the RPD has newly made available online a number of resources regarding department policies. They include the General Order on the Use of Force, on Racial Profiling, on Vehicular Pursuits, on Body Cams, on Open Records Requests, and on Internal Discipline. They also also include summary reports on Use of Force, on Vehicular Pursuit, on Racial Profiling, and on Vehicular Crashes. They also include links to thirteen community engagement programs like Neighborhood Crime Watch, Volunteers in Police Service, Citizen Police Academy and others. I haven't had a chance to study these resources. If you have and notice anything significantly surprising or concerning, please let me know.
The second bit of news is Chief Spivey's intention to enhance the scope of the Academy Advisory Board (which reviews training curriculum) and redefine its purpose to include not only review of training curriculum, but also policy. Chief Spivey will be increasing the number of members on the board to include broader representation of the community and require the board to meet more frequently.
Both of these steps are welcome news.
Let's turn to more random reactions I had to the briefing.
Council member Steve Mitchell asked a good question, good in that it accidentally revealed what I consider to be a significant response. When Chief Spivey said RPD's Use of Force policy prohibits chokeholds, strangleholds, and "lateral vascular neck restraints" (LVNR, whatever that is), Mitchell asked whether one of those was used on George Floyd, Chief Spivey responded, "No." Asked what was used, Spivey responded, "It was a knee on a neck." It wasn't clear to me how that would be prohibited by RPD's Use of Force policy.
A concern I have is that all of these prohibitions contain an escape clause. Use of a chokehold is prohibited "unless" you are protecting yourself from death or serious bodily injury. De-escalation techniques are required "unless" an officer "believes" it would be "unsafe, inrealistic, or impractical" to do so. I'm sure the language derives from a Supreme Court decision, but we should all be aware that it's hard to hold police accountable when they can claim they "reasonably believed" their lives were in danger.
Mayor Paul Voelker asked Chief Spivey to comment on a concern of many citizens about the "militarization" of police. Chief Spivey said "militarization" is a funny word, but said we don't have a "tank or a cannon", so we're good. Chief Spivey did say the police carry pepper spray and batons, modified shot guns with bean bag rounds, and even AR-15s in every squad car. We all saw some of these deployed against peaceful protesters elsewhere in the country, but Spivey didn't address RPD's crowd control strategies and policies for when they would be exercised.
Mayor Voelker asked about foreign language fluency in the department. Spivey should have been able to rattle off the number of languages spoken in the department and the number of interpreters that they had on speed dial if needed. Instead he could only name three off the top of his head. I hope and assume there are many more.
After Chief Spivey talked about all the ways body cams are automatically turned on, Mayor Voelker asked an obvious question about how easy they are to turn off. Spivey's response was, "They are a mechanical device and sometimes they fail." He provided no statistics on how often they fail, or how often they fail for the same officers. Another comment concerned me. Spivey said, "We don't include body cam footage in the reports we submit to the state or the feds." No one asked, why not. Sometimes the body cam footage is the only evidence that could contradict the incident reports filed by the officers' themselves.
Janet DePuy asked about RPD's disciplinary policy and how many reprimands it takes to dismiss an officer. Chief Spivey's answer ("It's too complicated to put a number on it. It depends.") seemed to satisfy DePuy, but not me.
Bob Dubey wanted to confirm that when police unholser their gun, they "shoot to kill." Chief Spivey said he's pulled his gun out many times in his career and never shot anyone. He said if police find it necessary to shoot, they are trained to "shoot to stop", not "shoot to kill." He also said they are trained to shoot to the center of the target, so if there was a difference in the two ways of saying it, he didn't bother to explain.
Ken Hutchenrider sounded more like a police spokesman than a city council member, asking softball leading questions like, "Is it fair to say we have a very pro-active process?"
Kyle Kepner asked a question about how many hours of training and how much time elapses before new police officers are out on the streets on patrol. He didn't say whether he found the answer too little, too much, or just right.
Mark Solomon said nothing at all, that I noticed.
There were concerns I had, not with the policies, which in general I think were very good, but with the safeguards in place to make sure the policies are followed not just to the letter, but in spirit. Chief Spivey summarized the reporting requirements and internal and/or external investigations that follow incidents. The problem is that if the community doesn't trust the police, they won't trust the police to investigate themselves, either. Requirements for citizen review boards to investigate low-level incidents and grand juries to investigate more serious use of force incidents are perhaps changes to be considered by the chief's expanded advisory board.
Also, it seemed odd to me that, other than a link to the RPD's racial profiling policy, there was no discussion of it at all. The words "Black Lives Matter" were not uttered by anyone in two and a half hours of discussion of policing in today's racially charged climate. I don't know what to attribute that to.
OK, I've gone on too long to keep people's attention. There was a lot of talking in two and a half hours. If you're still reading way down here, let me know if I got anything wrong (I'm thinking especially of you, Chief Spivey).