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Newberg-Dundee officers hope national protests don't erode trust in local force

For the past two weeks, peaceful protests and heated riots have filled streets across the country. The Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum after Minneapolis resident George Floyd was killed by a police officer who knelt on the back of his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking outrage and demands for reform from civilians, businesses and politicians alike.NEWBERG GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - NDPD Interim Chief Jeff Kosmicki released a statement on May 28 condemning what he calle an 'unlawful use of force' by the Minneapolis officer responsible for the death of George Floyd.

On May 28, Interim Chief Jeff Kosmicki of the Newberg-Dundee Police Department released a statement condemning what he called an "unlawful use of force" by the Minneapolis officer, who has since been charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

"The disturbing video evidence involving the death of George Floyd in Minnesota has been reviewed and discussed by our entire organization," Kosmicki wrote. "As your police officers, it is unconscionable to us that someone who is sworn to protect could justify that unlawful use of force or even have the mindset to consider it. This could go without saying, but sometimes it should not go without saying."

Pamplin Media Group followed up with Kosmicki to get a clearer picture of the department's approach to race issues and policies it has in place to remain transparent, reach out to the public and build connections with minority communities. Kosmicki acknowledged there is plenty of work to be done on these issues, and that he hopes Floyd's killing does not shatter the public's trust in the NDPD.

"We work very hard to establish good relationships with our residents here, and we really hope that this tragic event doesn't erode those," Kosmicki said. "Currently in our community, the officers are getting waves from people and positive support. I think that says a lot about how both the police and community interact on a daily basis and not just a snapshot in time."

NDPD has six separate policies, according to Kosmicki, that deal with bias-based policing. He said officers undergo training based on these policies throughout the year and read them during their shift briefings.

Kosmicki said officers go through extensive background checks along with fingerprinting and psychological testing to determine whether they are fit to join the local force. Kosmicki said this is an effort to hire "good people" for the job who won't engage in biased policing or create negative relationships with the people they serve.

"NDPD has the belief that all of our residents need to feel safe," Kosmicki said. "Everyone is equally valued in our community and by our police department. Many times, our contacts with our residents begin from a negative form of contact just by the nature of our business … and we recognize that.

"We hire good people and we make them into great officers. If you aren't a good person, there is little that we can do with you, and we don't want you here representing NDPD. It's not that we are perfect, that's not realistic, but we strive for perfection."

As a state accredited agency since 2004, Kosmicki said NDPD's policies are recognized by the state as the best possible practices. The department describes itself as a "full service, progressive and contemporary agency with 35 sworn police officers."

When it comes to use of lethal force, Kosmicki said there are many instances where NDPD officers could apply it but choose not to in order to protect civilians.

"We train to try and avoid unnecessarily putting our officers or residents in harm's way," Kosmicki said. "Many times, time and distance is your friend in law enforcement. None of our officers ever want to apply deadly force, however, they also realize they may not have a choice given the circumstances. An officer may respond with deadly force to protect him/herself or others from what he/she reasonably believes would be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury."

Local officers currently do not wear body cameras to film their interactions with civilians. Kosmicki said the department has asked for them for the past four years, but budget constraints at the city have prevented body cameras from being purchased.

NDPD hopes to have body cameras in the next 18 months if the city is able to set aside the money. Kosmicki said officers have done plenty of research into the topic and have narrowed a list of companies from which they would purchase cameras.

"One additional area we need to explore further is whether or not we will need additional staff to maintain the videos and keep up with requests properly," Kosmicki said. "The IT director and I have talked with other agencies, and most have added records staff to some degree to handle requests and editing that is required by law. It is certainly obtainable, many agencies have them, I just want to make sure we roll out the program properly. If we can't keep up or provide the evidence, then people think you are hiding something."

Community outreach is an area of focus for NDPD, with more than a dozen outreach programs and events in place throughout the year.

Officers under Kosmicki's command, as well as Kosmicki himself, attend regular outreach events with the Hispanic community. For almost three years, NDPD has partnered with Unidos Bridging Community — a Yamhill County nonprofit that advocates for the Latinx community and seeks to build connections in Newberg, McMinnville and elsewhere in the county.

"We have had several listening sessions where we have purchased dinner and got together to talk," Kosmicki said. "It's probably one of my favorite meetings that I go to. Great people, great questions, and I've developed quite a few friends I may otherwise not have met.

"(Former) Chief Casey started the meetings with members of the Latinx community, and they met at the library to make sure folks were comfortable. I think during the initial meeting there were six people. Since then I think all but one other meeting has been held at the public safety building. Our last meeting had about 50-plus people, and it feels like we continue to build on the success."

Kosmicki said meetings with the Latinx community have included some tough conversations, but those conversations have fostered strong relationships and made significant progress. He hopes to have more meetings with Unidos soon once COVID-19 resolves itself and encouraged other minority groups in the community to reach out if they're interested in building a similar relationship or organizing meetings with officers.

For more information on the NDPD, visit NewbergOregon.gov/police.


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