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Newport News Now

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Newport News Now is a daily e-newsletter that launched in March 2016. Articles that ran in our newsletter between March 2016 and March 2018 are available on these pages. Newsletters produced beginning in April 2018 can be viewed on our new daily newsletter page.

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Jul 10

A Message from Newport News Police Chief Rick Myers

Posted on July 10, 2016 at 8:58 PM by Communications Department

In the wake of the two Officer-involved shootings (OIS)Myers, Richard_SC this past week, and the horrible murder of five police officers and wounding of seven others in Dallas, TX, we have been flooded with inquiries about what we are doing locally to address such matters. As your police chief, I wish to address these both at a high level, as well as locally. I also wish to start, and finish, by stressing that the public is being exposed to the actions of very few officers resulting in great controversy, while the overwhelming majority of officers do great things every day to help and serve all people, with no recognition and little expectation of appreciation.

The tension between minorities, particularly people of color, and the police remains an unresolved issue in the United States. Several recent studies, including the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, have pointed out the need to resolve such long standing concerns. As a 39-year veteran of policing across the U.S., I can validate that there are reasons for mistrust and fear for the police, based upon widespread police actions of the past and even isolated actions of the present. Having lived during the Civil Rights era, I can recall images of police officers in some cities being used to punish those only seeking to experience “liberty and justice for all”. Today, we seek only to hire police officers who are far separated from the bias and malice shown back then. We provide unique training on the Constitution and the historical impact that police abuses carry over even into today. We encourage our officers to spend time in the neighborhoods they protect and get to know citizens as their partners for a safer community. But, we are naïve if we believe that fear and mistrust are totally removed from this equation. While I cannot speak with full knowledge and awareness of the Baton Rouge and Minnesota police shootings, my impression from the public reviews is that those officers may have acted more out of fear than from their training. Fear and mistrust of the police, and by the police, both lead to unacceptable outcomes.

 Therefore, we strongly support the national movement to provide more training to police officers on recognizing and mitigating the impact of bias in policing. Right here in Newport News, there is a team of nationally qualified trainers that provide this training throughout the region, and we have provided this to our supervisor and command staff. As the President of the international credentialing program for police agencies in the US, Canada, Mexico and beyond (the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies or CALEA), my fellow Commissioners and I are constantly reviewing and updating our accreditation standards to ensure that accredited agencies put policies and training in place to serve their community’s expectations and to stay contemporary.

Locally, we approach growing a strong and healthy relationship between the police and the community through a multi-layered effort: hiring, training, policy development, supervising, and accountability.

Hiring: we constantly fine tune our hiring process, and have placed a much higher priority on interpersonal skills and psychological and personality testing than on traditional police test categories such as law. Our recruit classes often fall below our goal for size as we simply will not hire just to fill seats, but only those who reach the highest standards. We also seek to recruit in a way that our agency reflects our community. We have gone to continuous recruitment/hiring and seek second career and other non-traditional candidates, as well as recruit significantly for all minority categories. We recently developed a Cadet program for college students to help mentor and increase interest among potential candidates for future appointment as officers.

Training: our initial academy training is almost 6 months long, and we include a significant portion on proportionate use of force, force decision making, interpersonal relations and communication, problem solving, etc. After initial training, our field training program pairs a recruit officer with seasoned training officers to cover a wide range of real life scenarios and tasks. It is almost a year before an officer goes on solo patrol. Our non-recruit officers undergo a wide range of ongoing training: our annual in-service training includes some of the topics from recruit school as refresher, and we also introduce new tactics and improved methods. Our use of force training is one of the more extensive areas, and we integrate concepts such as how to de-escalate, how and when to use less-lethal options, and critically, how to deal with mentally ill persons who may present as a higher threat or somehow in crisis. We send a significant number of officers annually through Crisis intervention Training (CIT) which is a nationally developed model to increase our effectiveness in assisting folks with a mental crisis. While we are constrained by both the time and money to provide even more training for officers, NNPD is known far and wide as a leader in providing employee training resulting in professional officers.

Policy development- as an Accredited agency, our agency policies are extensive and thorough and cover all aspects of operational and support elements of the Department. The accreditation process ensures that our policies are kept up to date, are trained to our workforce, and that we comply with what we say we will do through documentation and accountability. Recently when the Federal District Court of Appeals that covers Virginia issued a ruling on the use of less-lethal force, we immediately implemented modified policy and trained our officers on the impact of the court decision, and have already held employees accountable to the new standards.

Supervision: our field supervisors are given high expectations to closely monitor significant incidents on the street, to ensure that officers use the proper discretion and force as needed. Officers who use force beyond simple hands-on such as applying handcuffs are required to submit written use of force reports that are closely scrutinized. We have almost 100% deployment of body worn video cameras, and supervisors routinely review random excerpts along with specific case reviews. Supervisors are also trained on accepting citizen concerns and reviewing their employee’s actions and recommending levels of accountability.

Accountability: we have no tolerance for egregious police conduct that violates the rights of others, employs a grossly excessive use of force, or disregards the respect and dignity that all citizens deserve. Whether reported by citizens, or more often, identified by our own personnel, any inappropriate police conduct is completely investigated by our Professional Standards-Internal Affairs section, and when officers are found sustained in any such charges, the consequences are always closely matched to the severity of the offense. Extreme and unnecessary uses of force usually result in severe sanction for the employees involved. Of note is the Department’s long standing standard that any departure from truthfulness results in the separation of the employee. It is just as important to state that when our officers do their job appropriately, within policy and law, and apply the “do the right thing” standard of conduct, we support and back them even when others don’t. We believe the same standards of justice are deserved by the community and our officers alike.

 Every single day in Newport News, we have officers improving and helping the lives of residents in all parts of our city. We hear of events where officers buy meals out of their own pocket for the poor, buy toys for children who have none, and match people with medical or mental health crises with resources that can help them. In light of the Dallas event, and the resulting wave of anti-police rhetoric and threats on the internet, our officers face uncertainty with every call they respond to, and yet still are being proactive to help those in need. It is at tough times like these when the community as a whole can come together as one, avoid the polarization and mistrust seen in too many cities in our country, and show how Newport News is One City, all united to work together for safety and security.