Hillsboro officials discuss possible police use of force changes
Facing continued pressure, city councilors in Hillsboro met with top police department officials Tuesday, June 16, to review current policing practices and discuss policy changes aimed at reducing injustice.
The work session came after weeks of civil unrest across the country, including two protests in Hillsboro, following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
Unprecedented numbers of people have been calling on local police departments to reform, with many calling on cities to dismantle funding for police in exchange for funding of social services.
As part of the nearly three-hour work session Tuesday, officials examined how aligned the Hillsboro Police Department's policies are with the tenants of "#8CantWait," an initiative launched by the nonprofit Campaign Zero advocating for policies shown by research to reduce unjust outcomes in policing.
Multiple city councilors have already voiced support for adopting each of the eight policies contained in #8CantWait.
"The national narrative is right, it's correct, we need to have some reforms out there," said Cmdr. Craig Allen, who presented Hillsboro's use-of-force policies Tuesday.
Allen added that having "a core conviction of humanity in our police officers" is more important than the policies and training that informs them.
Allen said some of the #8CantWait policies are already in place in Hillsboro and others will be adopted soon.
The department is currently revising its use-of-force policies, a process that began in early 2020, said Sgt. Eric Bunday, Hillsboro police spokesperson. The department regularly reviews its policies and makes revisions as needed based on the review, Bunday said.
Allen said he expects revisions to conclude within one month.
Allen admitted the department's current policy, which he said he primarily drafted, doesn't include language requiring that officers intervene if they observe another officer using excessive force. But he said the duty to intervene has been a part of training for decades, and to codify that, the new policy will include explicit language for it.
More than a decade ago, the department's requirements for comprehensively reporting and reviewing uses of force, as prescribed by #8CantWait, were minimal, Allen said.
"Our particular oversight — just being very transparent — was nothing more than a signature on a use-of-force checklist, and it really had no oversight," Allen said. "We had moved away from that and went to a really robust after-action review."
He said sergeants are now required to write "extensively" about uses of force, and instances are analyzed and reviewed by lieutenants, commanders and the chief.
Allen said the department is "doing quite well" with regard to reporting uses of force, but the comment elicited a firm response from City Councilor Beach Pace.
"I have also been on the receiving end, not in Hillsboro, of not-so-great reporting," Pace said. "I don't want to hear 'we're doing pretty good here.' I think this is something that needs to be in our policy and it needs to be trained."
As prescribed by #8CantWait, police officers in Hillsboro are already required to use de-escalation techniques before resorting to force, Allen said. De-escalation training has been employed at the department since the early 2000s, he said.
Officers are also required to provide warnings before firing their weapons, and they are trained to do so, Allen said. He said both the department's policy and that of #8CantWait says warnings are required "if feasible," adding that there are circumstances in which officers do not have time to warn someone.
Shooting at moving vehicles is prohibited under HPD's current policy except in "extreme, extenuating" situations, Allen said. He provided an example of an incident in Hillsboro when an officer fired at a driver who was fleeing in a truck after being involved in a "fairly significant" domestic disturbance call. After pulling into a cul-de-sac and being ordered to stop, the driver almost ran over an officer who was standing at his driver-side door, and the officer fired into the vehicle, Allen said.
He said officers in Hillsboro have never been trained to use chokeholds to restrain people. The department's policy doesn't explicitly prohibit them, however. Allen said chokeholds should be explicitly prohibited unless a situation warrants deadly force.
City Councilors Kyle Allen and Fred Nachtigal disagreed on whether HPD should reimplement a use-of-force continuum — restrictions that link certain forceful actions with specific situations.
The department and other law enforcement agencies started moving away from use-of-force continuums in recent years because such policies can't feasibly include every situation an officer might encounter, Cmdr. Allen said.
Cmdr. Allen suggested it would be better to reinforce through training the need for officers to be conservative in all uses of force. He described a similar need to be conservative with force when discussing how HPD's policy doesn't currently require officers to exhaust all other alternatives before using deadly force.
Cmdr. Allen also said new policy revisions say officers should "consider lesser alternatives to affect capture."
In advocating for the adoption of a use of force continuum, Councilor Allen said an analysis by #8CantWait found that of the police departments in the 100 largest cities in the country, the departments that had continuum use of force policy were 19% less likely to have officer-related killings.
Disagreeing with Councilor Allen, Nachtigal said, "It's too complicated, it lumps people together. It's like uniform sentencing. Not every defendant is the same, but they all get the same sentence. You start lumping together certain types of actions that require or allow certain reactions, and they're not all the same."
City Manager Robby Hammond has formed an internal group to work with the police department, city councilors, city employees and the community to identify police policies that can be improved, said assistant city manager Simone Brooks.
"This is just the beginning of our community conversation," said Mayor Steve Callaway.
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