Police chiefs in Frisco and Rowlett have walked through how their departments match up to the eight policies outlined in the #8CantWait campaign.
The campaign is a project by activist group Campaign Zero. The campaign website says restrictive use of force policies can reduce police violence.
The Little Elm Police Department is a member of the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s Law Enforcement Agency Best Practices Recognition Program, a voluntary program that lays out 166 “best practices.” Police agencies are “recognized” by proving they meet or go beyond the 166 best practices.
Here’s where the Little Elm Police Department stands on the policies outlined in #8CantWait:
Banning chokeholds and strangleholds
The department's General Order 800 prevents officers from using "carotid restraints" or chokeholds unless deadly force is authorized, according to a statement from the department.
The Texas Police Chiefs Association Law Enforcement Agency Best Practices Recognition Program has a practice standard requiring biennial de-escalation training, according to a statement from the department. In addition, Texas’s Sandra Bland act requires officers to take a de-escalation class during licensing.
“Basically being part of that best practice program requires us to have de-escalation in our program,” Harrison said.
Require warning before shooting
Harrison said General Order 800 requires officers to use verbal commands when possible as part of the use of force continuum. That includes every part of the process, including shooting, he said.
“Is there possibly an occasion where an officer may not have the opportunity to issue a clear command before taking force? Yes,” Harrison said. “But our policy does require us to use verbal commands as part of that process.”
Harrison used the example of a situation in which a gunman might have a hostage. He said if the officer gave away his position, it could result in the death of the victim.
“Things happen so quickly sometimes that guys have to just sometimes make a split-second decision, then live with it the rest of their life,” he said, “and that's why we hope we never have to be in that situation, but there's always that possibility.”
Exhausting all other means before shooting
The department’s policy only allows officers to use deadly force when an officer reasonably believes it is necessary in the defense of his life or the life of another person, according to a statement from the department. That comes from the department’s General Order 800, according to the statement.
“Some people have a mindset that [exhausting all alternatives before shooting] means we have to go up and say 'hey, sir, don't do this,' and then go through this checklist,” Harrison said. “You may go from simple verbal commands to deadly force in just a matter of seconds. It's all dictated by the suspect's actions.”
Duty to intervene
The department’s General Order 200, requires employees to protect those in custody or being taken into custody from injury or civil rights violations, Harrison said.
The department statement states that an officer who observes another employee using force that is “clearly beyond what is reasonable and necessary” has a duty to intervene and to immediately report the use of force. The policy comes from General Order 800, according to the statement.
Ban shooting at moving vehicles
Harrison said the General Order 800 bans officers from shooting at or from a moving vehicle unless all other means of defense have failed. He said the policy also prohibits officers from putting themselves front of a moving vehicle.
“There are things that I can see (where an officer) possibly may have to shoot at a moving vehicle,” Harrison said, “but it would be the utmost rarest of events that I could even think of, but there's always that opportunity that it could happen.”
Require use of force continuum
The department policy has a chapter labeled continuum of force that defines levels of noncompliance, resistance and aggression, according to the department statement, Harrison said.
“It gives officers options to respond properly to a multitude of situations,” he said. “So basically it's that use of force continuum, and we would hope that we could always start off at the very base level, but sometimes the suspect's actions don't allow us to do that.”
Require comprehensive reporting
Department policy requires a use of force form for all less lethal weapon uses and for when an injury occurs, is claimed to occur or when personal property is damaged, according to the department statement. The policy comes from General Order 800.
Harrison said those reports go to a supervisor of the officer involved, then a division commander, an alternative second division commander and then to Harrison for review.
“So basically you have like five different sets of eyes looking at this to make sure that we're complying with policy and that we're doing the proper thing,” he said.
Harrison said the department had 15 use of force cases in 2019 and 13 use of force cases in 2018.
“Use of force is not pretty,” Harrison said. “It is one of the worst parts of this job. But unfortunately, sometimes suspects dictate actions where force has to be used. And so we've built in all these safeguards to make sure that, number one, reporting is being done right, and that we don't have someone just passing over something.”