Police provisions on paper must be continually re-enforced

To the Editor:

Let me say at the outset that the Guilderland Police Department does not have a problem or public perception concerning the use of force but, considering what is happening elsewhere, a review might be in order.

I addressed the Guilderland Town Board on June 16 regarding the policy and guidelines on the use of force by the Guilderland Police Department. I referred to two documents.

The first was the Minneapolis Police Department 5-300 document (16 pages) on the use of force and the Guilderland Police Department document (14 pages) on the use of force, issued on Feb. 25, 2008 and revised on Sept. 18, 2019. We have not, to the best of my knowledge seen a situation in Guilderland that approaches the George Floyd situation.

I used the Minneapolis use-of-force document to try to determine what went wrong in the matter of the murder of George Floyd. This document seems to say all the right things regarding the duty to intervene (07/28/2016):

— A. “Sworn employees have an obligation to protect the public and other employees”; and

— B. “It shall be the duty of every sworn employee present at any scene where physical force is being applied to either stop or attempt to stop another sworn employee where force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.”

Clearly, in the case of the George Floyd murder, these provisions were ignored.

The Guilderland Police Department document, on its first page, states, “Members of this department are required to maintain control or intervene if the use of force against a subject becomes excessive. Failure to do so may result in department disciplinary action, criminal prosecution and civil liability.” Page 7 has a more specific Article VI Duty to Intervene:

— Any officer present and observing another officer using force that he/she reasonably believes to be clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances shall intercede to prevent the use of unreasonable force, if and when the officer has a realistic opportunity to prevent harm; and

— An officer who observes another officer use force that exceeds the degree of force as described in subdivision A of this section should promptly report these observations to a supervisor. (Subdivision A refers to factors that affect an officer’s force selection … These sections are underlined in the document as presented online and not by me.

My observations are as follows. There is a portion in Guilderland’ use-of-force regulations which talks to realistic opportunity. That portion needs to be spelled out in more detail.

My second observation refers to the reporting of these observations to a supervisor. Mr. Floyd was pinned to the ground by Derek Chauvin’s knee to his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The duty to intervene was ignored.

Where was the supervisor? What does this mean? The off-site supervisor will only get what the field officers are reporting. This section needs to be re-examined with the idea that decisions can be made in as minimal a time frame as possible by superior officers.

The second aspect of these documents that needs to be examined is the use of neck restraints or choke holds. In the Minneapolis Police Department document on page 7 there are four definitions of neck restraints:

— Choke hold: Deadly-force option (4/16/2012);

— Neck-restraint: Non-deadly force option (4/16/2012);

— Conscious neck restraint: The subject is placed in a neck restraint with the intent to control, and not to render the subject unconscious, by only applying light to moderate pressure (4/16/2012); and

— The subject is placed in a neck restraint with the intention of rendering the person unconscious by applying adequate pressure.

The document then goes into Procedures/Regulation II. There are four provisions, saying that neck restraints shall not be used against subjects who are passively resisting as defined by policy. (4/16/2012)

Clearly something went wrong in Minneapolis. The police department’s own document spelled out the exact opposite as to what was applied to Mr. Floyd as well as the duty to intervene.

The Guilderland Police Department document on page 2 addresses as a definition, “Positional asphyxia: Death that occurs from respiratory muscle failure as a result of body position that interferes with a person’s ability to breath. Positional asphyxia occurs most often following a violent struggle.”

This is from a National Law Enforcement Technology Center Bulletin published in 1995. At the bottom of page 3, again from the Guilderland document: “Subjects who engage in violent struggles with officers may be more vulnerable to positional asphyxia. To help minimize to risk of positional asphyxia, officers shall adhere to the following procedures:

— 1. As soon as possible (under the circumstances), after the subject is handcuffed get the subject off of their stomach. Turn them on their side or place them in a seated position;

— 2. If they continue to struggle after being handcuffed, do not sit on the subject’s back. Hold their legs down or utilize leg shackles;

— 3. Never tie the handcuffs to a leg or ankle restraint;

— 4. If needed, get the subject immediate medical attention; and

— 5. Do not lay the subject on their stomach during transport. Instead, place them in a seated position.

This Guilderland Police document concludes on page 13 with a section on training. I did mention to the town board on June 16 the following, from the first section of the training discussion. Section 1 reads as follows: All officers should receive training and demonstrate their understanding on the proper application of force.

“Should” is a very poor choice of word. How about must?

Page 14 is a use-of-force continuum, which is an excellent presentation.

The emphasis on comprehensive training is so important. It is useless (and fatal in the case of Mr. Floyd) if these provisions are down on paper but are not continually re-enforced and practiced over and over and over.  

Our police are doing well here in our town. Please keep up the good work. Yes, you are so important to  the rest of us.

But it would help if the police leadership as well as the town board continually remind the public of what they, as government institutions, are doing regarding the above issues to make sure that a George Floyd situation does not occur here.

John B. Haluska


More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.