Concord police’s use-of-force policy assessed against ‘8 Can’t Wait’ guidelines

  • Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood has posted the department’s use-of-force policy on the city’s website. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/30/2020 5:49:54 PM

The Concord Police Department’s use-of-force policy was put to the test at a public meeting Monday using eight recommendations from a national police reform campaign.

As protests throughout the country call for swift and concrete action in response to recent incidents of police brutality, Concord officials used Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” initiative to begin their assessment of police department policies and procedures with the goal of reducing violence.

Campaign Zero’s plan, which is backed by Black Lives Matter, puts forth eight immediate, no-cost steps departments can take to reduce the number of police killings, including a ban on chokeholds, reporting use-of-force incidents, mandating intervention when officers witness misconduct and training on de-escalation techniques. The campaign compared use-of-force policies at 100 of the country’s largest police departments and argue their recommendations could reduce police violence by more than 70%, although critics argue the strategy is unproven and demands further research.

The death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 has spurred calls for comprehensive police reform, including in New Hampshire, where chokeholds could soon be banned. In Concord, police officers are not trained to use chokeholds or neck restraints; however, the department’s use-of-force policy does not mention them.

“We don’t have the word chokehold in out use-of-force policy because we don’t train in it,” Concord Police Chief Brad Osgood told members of the Public Safety Advisory Board.

Recent calls for greater transparency and questions about current police practices prompted Osgood to post the department’s use-of-force policy on the city’s website. Two weeks ago Osgood said he was working with the city’s legal counsel to determine if other police policies could be added to the site for easy access. The use-of-force policy remains the only one posted online for public review.

City officials and residents who participated in Monday’s discussion questioned whether the policy should include language that explicitly prohibits chokeholds, rather than keeping with the current document that does not address the issue.

Osgood said he expects that the governor’s new commission on law enforcement accountability and transparency will recommend statewide standards on many of these hot button issues and that any changes to New Hampshire law would by default clear up the city’s policy. He advised waiting to see what happens at the state level before any major modifications are made to local policy.

The Concord Police Department stacks up well against other measures proposed by 8 Can’t Wait. Officers are required to use de-escalation tactics and to try to calm a situation before using force, although Osgood said how that is accomplished is very case specific.

“Police officers de-escalate situations on a daily basis, multiple times during the day,” he said. “We recognize and respect the value of human life.”

Department policy requires officers to make a verbal warning before using force. Although there are situations that may require an immediate response, including if officers are the target of gunfire.

Concord police officers are required to exhaust all other means before shooting and to intervene when they witness inappropriate use of force by another officer. The city’s use-of-force policy, which was last updated in 2018, does not currently include language about intervention; however, the department has a separate rule on that very issue, Osgood said.

After consulting with the city solicitor, Osgood recommended at the meeting adding language to the use-of-force policy that would read, “An officer has a duty to intervene to prevent or stop the excessive force by another officer when it is safe and reasonable to do so.”

He said all officers are required to report use-of-force incidents and fill out a form that is submitted to the on-duty commander. Those incidents include if a firearm is displayed to gain compliance, if a taser is deployed or used, and if a firearm is discharged, resulting in injury or death.

Shooting at a moving vehicle is authorized only in specific situations, including when an occupant of the vehicle is threatening deadly force or if the vehicle is being driven in a way that intends to cause injury to a person. Officers must have exhausted all other defensive tactics first.

Requiring officers to follow what is commonly referred to as a use-of-force continuum aims to limit the use of deadly force to extreme scenarios.

“Every use-of-force incident is different so it requires officers to really analyze the situation at that time and work through the particulars,” said Deputy Chief Steven Smagula, who also joined the virtual discussion.

In addition to taking questions about the use-of-force policy, Osgood spoke about the department’s focus on community policing and initiatives that began years ago in response to another fatal shooting of a Black man by police in Missouri.

Osgood said the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown Jr., an unarmed teenager, led to the creation of the Community Services Division and a greater focus community-oriented policing that aims to build partnerships with residents, including in the city’s New American community. He said the department continues to review and implement recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was established by then-President Barack Obama to identify best practices that increase trust, reduce bias and enhance crisis response.

Moving forward, the Public Safety Advisory Board supported calls to review with the police department the six pillars of modern policing as outlined in the task force’s report as another assessment tool. Osgood said he started conversations with administrators in his department on that exact topic prior to the onset of the new coronavirus and hoped to continue that dialogue at next month’s staff meeting.

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