Abilene police

The use of a chokehold that has led to deaths by police officers is prohibited by the Abilene Police Department,  Interim Police Chief Jason Wilkins told the Abilene City Commission at a study session Monday.

Wilkins also said the police department is expecting some type of  reform.

“Certainly across the country, what is going on, police reform is coming,” Wilkins said. “What that is going to look like, I don’t know. I want to reassure you the Abilene Police Department is dedicated to following whatever those recommendations may be.”

The use of the chokehold has been questioned in the death of Eric Garner in New York and George Floyd in Minneapolis. The recent death of Floyd caused nationwide protests, rioting and a movement to defund the police.

Because of recent events, Wilkins said there might be some questions in the community about “the police department’s use of force policy and some of the equipment that we use to ensure the transparency that those policies are being followed.”

When fully staffed, there are 12 police officers headed by a chief of police and assistant chief.

Wilkins said the officers have a Use of Force Policy that was revamped in 2012 and revised regularly.

“That policy prohibits the use of vascular neck restraints otherwise referred to as a chokehold,” he told commissioners who met in the library but broadcast over YouTube. “Additionally, to avoid the possibility of suffocation, the policy dictates that once an individual is under control and in handcuffs, if they are still facedown, they are to be moved onto their side and seated in an upright position until they are able to be placed in a patrol car and transported to a detention facility.”

Levels of force

The policy outlines five levels of force from compliant to lethal.

“It lays out what options each officer has at each level,” he said. “Any time an officer uses force that is lethal, less lethal force or force that requires medical attention, they fill out what is a Response to Resistance Form.”

That form is then reviewed by the command staff. 

Wilkins said that the Abilene Police Department was proactive with the use of body cameras.

“The policy for those body cameras specifically says that during any law enforcement contact or call for service, it is to be activated. Oftentimes things happen rapidly and an officer may be late doing that. Our body cameras do offer a buffering period and goes back 30 seconds from the time it is activated.”

Each of the patrol vehicles have cameras that can be activated when a patrol vehicle reaches the speed of 84 miles per hour or can be manually activated.

“That captures what is going on in front of the car as well as what is going on in the car,” Wilkins said.

He said should the vehicle camera not be activated, a time period can still be captured. 

No-knock policy

Commissioner Dee Marshall asked about the “no-knock warrant” policy of entering a building.

Wilkins said the no-knock warrants have to be specifically requested and approved by the judge that signs the warrant.

“In my 15 years with the department I don’t recall a time when the Abilene Police Department ever used a no-knock search warrant. We knock and announce,” he said. “My expectation is, I want the people inside that house to know who we are. I want the whole neighborhood to know who we are when executing a search warrant.”

Commissioner Tim Shafer said one of the issues in the news is that body cameras are not being turned on.

“What happens if we don’t turn it on?” he asked. “Are there policy procedures?”

Wilkins said the officers would be subject to a policy violation.

He said body cameras came about in 2015 and an update of body cameras is in the works. The new cameras integrate well into the car system.

“If the lights come on in the car, the body camera kicks on as well,” he said.

Commissioner Trevor Witt asked about the discipline process.

According to reports, Derek Chauvin had 17 complaints against him before he was charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.

“It seem like these scenarios were the worst happened because a long time frame of misbehavior was not addressed,” Witt said. “What is the process in our police department if any misbehavior happens?”

Wilkins said it would taken on a case-by-case basis.

“I judge it on severity and frequency,” he said. “I think a lot of things that you see across the country from some of the larger departments where you have complaint after complaint, understand a lot of those officers are probably protected by unions. Police unions across the country are very powerful organizations.”

City Manager Jane Foltz said there is a nationwide search for a police chief, a position vacated with the resignation of Mike Mohn.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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