June 8, 2020

Continuous Improvement and Best Practices in Police Use of Force

It’s not often I find myself at a loss for words.  Like so many of our fellow Americans, and people all around the world, as I’ve read the accounts and watched the footage of George Floyd’s final moments I’ve struggled to make sense of it.  How could the excessive and dangerous neck restraint have been allowed to go on for nearly nine minutes, and long past the point Floyd was even capable of resisting?  Knowing how the story ends, it’s particularly painful hearing Floyd’s voice as he begs for his life, handcuffed and motionless, pinned facedown on the ground.

What happened to George Floyd while in the custody of those entrusted and sworn to protect him—and all of us—must not be tolerated anywhere.  At the same time, the repugnant actions of the very few must not be allowed to diminish our respect and gratitude for law enforcement generally.  It behooves officers everywhere to learn from this and other incidents of excessive force, to embrace all efforts for continuous improvement, and to commit to open dialogue and to working together toward regaining the public’s trust.

In recent days several Bellaire residents have reached out to inquire specifically how our officers are trained in the use of force, including with reference to certain policy proposals that have been trending online.  BPD command staff take this issue very seriously and welcome such questions and concerns.  They regularly review and update the Department’s general orders, to stay current with best practices in policing such as those found in the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015) and the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s Texas Law Enforcement Best Practices.  Last year the Department completed a comprehensive rewrite of all its general orders to ensure their alignment with the latest TPCA best practices.

Bellaire’s use of force policy is grounded in an express statement of respect for the sanctity of human life and is for the protection of everyone involved in a police encounter.  The use of force is limited to only that which “is reasonably necessary to effectively bring an incident under control while protecting the lives of the officers and others.”  Policies that are now being urged for adoption by cities nationwide have already largely been incorporated in the Department’s general orders.

Carotid control holds, or choke holds, are expressly prohibited in Bellaire except in the officer’s self-defense or defense of another person from an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death, and when the use of deadly force would otherwise be authorized.  Bellaire officers also receive training on de-escalation strategies every two years, to promote the safe resolution of incidents by verbal rather than physical means.  Moreover, officers are trained to recognize and have an affirmative duty to intervene should they ever observe another officer using force greater than is objectively reasonable in the circumstances.  Our new state-of-the-art police station features a dedicated de-escalation training room, underscoring the Department’s commitment to officer proficiency in avoiding deadly force situations.

The work of continuous improvement is never done, and the Bellaire Police Department treats its use of force policy, and all general orders, as a living document subject to further updates as better ways of doing things are identified.  Given recent events and the renewed national focus on police tactics, our command staff are paying close attention and reviewing existing policies, with an openness to new ideas.  Citizens are right to be concerned, and have a role to play by speaking out in support of finding meaningful solutions to these difficult and complex law enforcement challenges.