Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said in a memo that his department already has policies in place meeting “use of force” changes sought by those demonstrating in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas emailed a copy of the memo, written last Tuesday from Jones to city manager John Glascock, to his constituents Sunday prior to a virtual Zoom call.
“Black and brown residents of Columbia, those living on low incomes, and other marginalized groups do not feel safe, do not trust CPD to keep them safe, and feel threatened by the officers who have been hired with taxpayer dollars to keep them safe,” Thomas told his constituents. “As we know from recent events in communities across the country, these are perfectly rational fears.”
In the memo, Jones details how the police department approaches the uses of force targeted by Campaign Zero and states that most demands have already been met, with some qualifications. Here is a point-by-point summary:
1. Completely ban all chokehold and strangling by officers.
Jones wrote that chokeholds and strangling are currently prohibited by Columbia Police Department Policy 300.11.4, although he added the department allows for the tactics when “the level of reasonable force has reached the level of deadly force.” He asserted officers should not use holds unless they are “intentionally applying deadly force.”
Jones notes that there have been no deaths in Columbia as a result of a Columbia police officer applying chokeholds.
2. Restrict deadly force to be authorized only when strictly necessary to protect life after all other reasonable alternatives are exhausted.
Jones wrote that officers have been entrusted to use “well-reasoned discretion” in determining the appropriate response to resistance. He says that determining reasonableness of force is “judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene at the time of the incident.
“A (use of force) continuum is a valuable training tool, and can be used to help officers assess the levels of force needed. Ultimately, the use of force must be objectively reasonable,” he added.
Jones stressed that officers adhering to a standard of “strictly necessary” requires speedily having “every piece of information available” and processing it before responding to a threat.
“This level of knowledge and insight is rarely if ever achievable in these types of situations and could not be adhered to by even the most educated, trained, and experience officers,” he wrote.
3. Require comprehensive reporting of incidents where officers use force.
The chief said the department uses software called BlueTeam to track all incidents involving Columbia police officers using force, and officers are required to report any time they use force.
All police use-of-force incidents are reviewed by the department’s internal review process, according to the memo. The department’s software “also sends alerts to supervisors when there are repeated uses of force within a set time period,” the memo states.
4. Require that officers intervene when another officer is using excessive force.
“Our policy requires officers to intervene when they are able and report these acts to a supervisor,” Jones said.
5. Require officers to de-escalate situations without force when possible.
The chief said the department policy “encourages officer to use de-escalation techniques when possible.”
Jones said he has requested staff to meet routinely to consider gaps in policy and training that could reduce the “frequency and severity of use of force encounters,” and added that de-escalation is part of those discussions.
6. Clearly define and limit the types of force that can be used for specific types of resistance.
“The use of force must be objectively reasonable,” Jones wrote. “Training is a key factor when addressing this point.”
7. Require officers to give a verbal warning before shooting at a civilian.
Jones notes that CDP Policy 300.10 requires a verbal warning where feasible. The policy states that an officer may use deadly force to protect himself or the public from an imminent threat, which does not need to be an immediate threat. Such force can be used to protect the officer or to stop a fleeing suspect whom the officer feels can impose serious injury or death on someone.
8. Restrict officers from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless they pose a threat by means other than the vehicle, such as shooting from the vehicle.
Jones wrote that firing into a vehicle is prohibited “unless the officer is intentionally applying deadly force.”
“I am not willing to take away a deadly force option to protect the life and safety of innocent bystanders and police officers,” he wrote.
As for the overall police policy, Jones noted that “our policy was vetted through the interested party meeting and is a working document; we are always willing to discuss policy and how it is applied.”
“Force MUST be applied legitimately, when applied and we have a responsibility to those we serve to explain our safety priorities, our training and our policies,” he said. “This allows us to seek input and continue to improve our operational application of force.”
Additionally, the police department is anticipating further changes such as creating a position under Internal Affairs that “reviews police, training and application through an equity lends,” according to the memo.