Local law enforcement officials weigh in on police reform

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    Calls for police reform have erupted across the nation in the wake of the May 25 death of 46-year-old black
    Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
    Floyd was killed during an arrest by Minneapolis police officers for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
    Multiple videos taken by witnesses at the scene and security cameras in the area showed Officer Derek Chauvin
    kneeling with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down.
    Two other officers assisted Chauvin in holding Floyd down while another officer kept bystanders from
    intervening.
    Floyd could be heard begging for his life and repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”
    Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but a second-degree
    murder charge was later added. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second degree
    murder.
    And while Carroll County hasn’t seen much of the protesting and none of the mayhem that has broken out in US
    cities over the past two weeks, local law enforcement officials say they are taking the situation and the issue of
    police reform seriously.
    Carroll County Sheriff Andy Dickson, Huntingdon Director of Public Safety Walter Smothers, and McKenzie
    Police Chief Craig Moates all condemned the actions of Chauvin and the other officers.
    Dickson pointed out that one of the Minneapolis officers involved had 19 prior complaints.
    “He would not have been an employee at the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department,” said Dickson. “When police
    departments don’t police their own, that’s when you get situations like that. Law enforcement has to be held
    accountable when someone does something that tarnishes and dishonors the badge.”
    Smothers said he found the actions of the Minneapolis officers deplorable.
    “It’s incomprehensible to me that anyone would do that,” said Smothers.
    According to Moates, he and his department supported the small group of protestors who protested Floyd’s death
    in McKenzie.
    “We had a little protesting, but it was all calm and peaceful,” said Moates. “We even helped them out by
    providing drinks.”
    Moates attended meetings of the Tennessee Police Chiefs Association last week, and police reform was one of the
    topics discussed at those meetings.
    Moates said there was talk about putting a special task force together to help police departments across the state
    address this issue and hopefully come up with consistent use-of-force policies that can be adopted statewide.
    Dickson, Smothers, and Moates all said that their officers are not trained to or allowed to use choke holds, and
    they all said their departments have strict policies against racial profiling.
    The HPD’s policy on racial profiling states: “No law enforcement action shall ever commence solely on the basis
    of the individual’s actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity or national origin [and] personnel shall not engage in
    racial profiling and shall respect the dignity of all persons …”
    “We are constantly looking at our policies to see if there need to be any changes, and we appropriately make those
    changes when necessary,” said Moates.
    Dickson said that his deputies are required to put in 40 hours of in-service training every year, and how to safely
    restrain a suspect without causing injury and how to judge when it is and when it is not necessary to use deadly force
    are a part of that training.
    “We try to treat people the way we want to be treated ourselves,” said Smothers. “And if I ever found an officer
    discriminating against anyone, that person would be out the door.”
    According to Smothers, there hasn’t been an incident of a HPD officer using deadly force in at least 30 years.
    Moates said there haven’t been any fatal shootings by police during the seven years he has headed up the MPD.
    Dickson said there have been a couple of instances over the past decade in which deputies have used deadly force
    resulting in a loss of life, but he pointed out that most instances do not result in a death, even when potentially
    deadly force is used.
    The sheriff also said that he will not hesitate to charge his own officers if they step over the line, and there have
    been some instances of deputies being charged and convicted in the past.
    “I didn’t try to cover these things up,” said Dickson. “We just have to continue with transparency and keep
    holding ourselves accountable.”

    Dickson, Smothers, and Moates all said that maintaining good relations with the community is important to both
    public safety and the safety of officers.
    “I think we have a good relationship with the community, and we try to interact with the community at every
    level,” said Moates.
    “We have good people who live here and good officers,” said Smothers. “I’m thankful for that, and I hope no-one
    can every say they were mishandled by the Huntingdon Police Department.”

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