The death of George Floyd, a black man who died while he was in custody after a white police officer put a knee in his neck for nearly nine minutes, has sparked national outrage.
While it happened in Minneapolis, several local groups have gathered to protest or express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement to hold those in law enforcement accountable if their actions are that of police brutality, racial profiling, excessive force, etc.
With the growing divide between civilians and law enforcement, how do departments in the Historic Triangle bridge the gap between community policing, race and diversity?
Is it enough to make certain there is diversity in the force or whether officers truly understand the meaning of racial equality when they’re out in the streets?
The main component of law enforcement it to protect and serve (the public), not to protect and serve their interests.
York Poquoson-Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs said the sheriff’s office lines up training to discuss cultural issues and the state mandates this training ––eight hours––– every two years. This is included in their in-service training requirements.
“And then we do other training besides that,” he said, adding new recruits go through the basic academy and also receive diversity training before they become deputies.
Diggs said when they look to hire new recruits, especially from other agencies, they look at the applicant’s personnel folder. In addition, YPSO talks to their peers and people they know.
“And some people we don’t hire because we don’t like what we hear and see in the personnel folder,” Diggs said.
He said YPSO has a variety of training throughout the years that deals with various issues, but did not elaborate.
“We want to make sure they understand that the ethical considerations, the moral considerations and the culture of our department we do not tolerate racism, homophobia and other kinds of the negative people thing[s] we try to get across,” he said.
Diggs posted a statement referencing Floyd’s death in a Facebook post on Wednesday. He said he feels the department does not need to change the way they approach race and diversity training of their deputies.
“No, because we already do not tolerate such behaviors that has been exhibited in Minnesota,” he said. “It’s certainly something we have been talking about in the past few days.”
“Nobody hates a bad cop worse than a good cop,” he added. “I have not talked to any office anywhere who has condoned or thought in any way this was acceptable.”
As for connecting more with minority communities, Diggs said they already have outreach programs throughout the year such as the crime prevention programs and shop with the sheriff.
“We already do these things,” he said. “As evidenced by our Facebook page,” Diggs said. “What I kind of call people in our community to do is reflect upon the activities and the sheriff’s deputies over the years.”
The Williamsburg Police Department committed to protecting the constitutional rights of the public in all of officers’ duties, John Heilman, the department’s spokesman, wrote in an email.
“Our success is based on the respect we give to our communities, and the respect citizens observe toward law enforcement,” he said. “To that end, we shall exercise our sworn duties, responsibilities, and obligations in a manner that does not discriminate based on race, sex, gender, national origin, ethnicity, age, or religion.”
Heilman said the department maintains a bias-free police force in multiple ways. This includes training officers in bias-based profiling issues, using cameras in multiple capacities while on duty, and employing a strict hiring process to remove candidates who do not meet the mission of the department.
Williamsburg Police also has a written policy that prohibits any bias-based policing and officers receive legal training that includes the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, which cover unreasonable search and seizure and the equal protection of the law.
Individuals also have the ability to file a complain with the department if they feel they have been a victim of bias-based profiling. These complaints are then documented and investigated.
“Our department believes that actions guided by bias destroy the trust and respect essential for our mission to succeed,” he said. “We live and work in communities very diverse in population: respect for diversity and equitable enforcement of the law is essential to our mission.”
A representative from Williamsburg Police was not immediately available for any further comments.
Officers in James City County are also provided with implicit-bias awareness training, cultural diversity training and proper use of force training, which includes de-escalation training, Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the James City County Police Department, wrote in an email.
“We review each use of force incident to ensure that the force used was in compliance with department policy and applicable laws,” Williams wrote. “We regularly review and revise our policies and training to ensure that our officers are performing their duties in accordance with best police practices and legal updates.”
Williams was not immediately available for further comment.
On June 1, James City County Police Chief Bradley Rinehimer sent a statement to the community expressing his sorrow regarding Floyd’s death. Rinehimer said the job of a police officer requires assistance from the community and incidents such as Floyd’s death “erode at the basic foundation upon which we are built.”
He said local law enforcement and African American community leaders signed the Historic Triangle Covenant of Mutuality, Inclusion and Understanding which pledged a commitment in 2017 to “honor one another and to work collaboratively through mutual respect and inclusion for the betterment of our entire community.”
According to James City County’s website, the covenant also calls for local law enforcement to eradicate old codes of conduct by agreeing that officers report all instances of officer misconduct to their supervisors.
“Understanding, that when officer act inappropriately towards the citizenry whom they have sworn to protect and serve, their actions can and ultimately lead to distrust, uncertainty, and suspicion within the community,” the covenant reads.
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