After my last blog post, I decided it would be good to just reach out to our local police department to get some information. I contacted them on their Facebook page and this is what I wrote:
Hi, my name is Esther Heneise. I live in East Knoxville, off of Magnolia. My children attend Sarah Moore Greene, Vine, and Austin East. Right now, as our country is going through the present turmoil over George Floyd’s murder, the attention has turned to the Police Force. I know that you are very busy, but I think it would be very helpful for me and the general public if you put out an official statement describing how our police force trains against excessive use of force, profiling, racism, and exactly what actions are taken if a police officer is caught doing these things. Also, are there any steps that people can take to seek justice if they feel that they have been treated unfairly by a police officer? My daughter wants to be a police officer, but she has not shared this dream at Austin East where she goes to school, because none of her friends would support her. There is definitely a culture at the high school level of police being the enemy. I am curious whether there are any programs in place to try and combat these bad public relations? if you have any time to answer these questions I would appreciate it. I am thankful for all that you do in our city and in my neighborhood. Sincerely, Esther Heneise
This was their response:
Hello Esther. Thank you for reaching out with your concerns.
Knoxville Police Department officers are trained extensively in human relations, cultural diversity, ethics in policing and de-escalation tactics, both during the Recruit Academy and throughout their careers.
During the Recruit Academy, trainees receive nearly 60 hours of training devoted exclusively to those topics, but that serves merely as a foundation that officers will continue to build on through their experiences in the field and continued training. That training is provided through daily squad roll call briefings, which can be formally administered through the Field Training Officer Program or initiated by the squad supervisors. Additionally, all officers are required to complete yearly in-service training to maintain POST certification.
We want to assure you that the Knoxville Police Department has the policies, procedures and training in place to address any issues and ensure that we deliver the best possible service for the community. Both the police department and training academy are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and are continuously evaluated to ensure compliance with industry-tested standards.
Per policy, Knoxville Police Department officers are directed to only use the force that is objectively reasonable to effectively bring an incident under control, and should only use force when no reasonable effective alternative appears to exist. The policy, of course, acknowledges that each encounter is unique and that numerous factors figure into the decision making of the officer in that circumstance. However, the preferred outcome of an encounter with a non-compliant subject is that the presence of an officer or de-escalation techniques are successful in obtaining compliance.
With that, there are safeguards in place to ensure that officers are using force appropriately and treating all citizens with the respect and decency that they deserve from those tasked with protecting and serving the community.
Citizen complaints can be submitted either directly to the Internal Affairs Unit or separately to the Police Advisory & Review Committee. In either instance, those complaints are taken seriously, investigations are conducted if proven necessary and officers are held accountable for their actions.
Use of force reports are submitted following all circumstances in which the subject sustains an injury, the subject complains of injury, medical attention is required or requested, or more physical means that result in an impact are utilized. All use of force reports are reviewed by an officer’s immediate supervisors, the District Commander and the Internal Affairs Unit, who conducts any follow-up investigations if it is deemed necessary.
We feel that the evidence suggests that our efforts are working to bring every encounter to the most peaceful conclusion possible. In 2019, despite seeing an increase of 20,000 calls for service, we saw an over 28 percent decrease in use of force reports.
The Department also utilizes its Early Warning System to monitor officers. That system exists to identify officers who generate numerous use of force reports and complaints of misconduct or are the recipient of numerous disciplinary actions. For those identified by the Early Warning System, the KPD evaluates their behavior, addresses it directly, and determines the appropriate action to take, which can include reassignment and termination if that behavior is not corrected.
The Internal Affairs Unit is also responsible for putting together quarterly biased-based policing reports to ensure that no officer in the Department is involved in bias-based profiling and that all officers are acting within policy. If any issues are identified, the Internal Affairs Unit makes recommendations for training directives or policy changes.
All of our efforts and training are based around de-escalation and cultural competency. Those things are intricately interwoven into everything we do, teach and expect of our officers. Though they often enter into tense and unpredictable situations, officers do not want to have to use force to bring an incident under control. We want to understand and connect with every citizen we encounter, and provide the service that the community expects and desires. We strive to treat every individual with the utmost respect, decency and dignity.
I am thankful that they took the time to answer my questions. Thinking ahead, as to how this information might be helpful…Perhaps, having a general education campaign that lets the public know what their rights are as far as their interactions with the police, and also making it very clear, and user friendly, how the general public can file a complaint. Perhaps even having a liaison, or go between, who could help someone file a complaint when they have been the victim of profiling or have been made to feel in danger by the police. Maybe these are things that would help black people in our community feel that they have a voice and a safeguard against wrongful behavior? What do you all think?