Chief, mayor confident in Sherwood police protocols
Police conduct has been a boiling issue throughout the country. For many weeks, cities big and small have experienced demonstrations and turmoil.
It's a topic that raises questions in smaller cities, too. The city of Sherwood held a work session June 30 to learn, specifically, about protocol in the Sherwood Police Department.
Police Chief Jeff Groth tackled a wide range of topics during the virtual work session, attended by the mayor, as well as city council members, and provided to the community via YouTube.
Noting that his department is a "values-based" organization, Groth said, "What that means is our core values are critically important to us."
These values include integrity, accountability, professionalism, reliability, courage and compassion, Groth said.
Groth said his department is guided by a policy manual with a subscription for a policy system through a company called Lexipol.
"It is not a boilerplate policy," Groth said. "You go through a very extensive process so that the first version (of the policy) is customized to who you are as an agency and what you do."
According to Groth, the police policy system goes through at least two updates each year and Groth reviews and approves them.
"If there are any other urgent updates, those will get pushed out as well," he said.
In Sherwood, it's important, according to Groth, to build a relationship between citizens and their police officers.
"Building relationships equals legitimacy," Groth told council members. "Building relationships also equals procedural justice. When you have that relationship, like we have with our community, it's that much easier for our community to have confidence in us."
One topic at the work session was police training. Groth said ongoing in-service training is conducted in his department. Part of the recent training focuses on, as he puts it, racial reconciliation training.
"Our officers need to understand the challenges that people of color are facing in their everyday lives and in their interaction with police officers," Groth said.
The police recruiting process was another topic generating interest during the live presentation to the public. Speaking of recruitment, Groth said, "We need to make sure we are recruiting in the right places, where we're going to attract people of color, people of different cultures, female applicants."
As part of the recruitment and hiring process, every applicant must undergo a psychological assessment.
Groth said applicants will be checked for "deficits in traits linked to bias, prejudice and discrimination, such as closemindedness, poor empathy, distrust, intolerance and inflexibility."
He continued, "You can do great on an interview, you can do great on everything else, but if you don't get through the psych, you're not going to come to work for Sherwood P.D."
The work session also addressed the idea of reviewing department policy.
"I'm interested in making sure we have a very public, transparent process as change is occurring, and to be frank, especially if it's change outside of what Lexipol is suggesting," said Council President Tim Rosener. "I think there's some middle ground there that will assure the public that we do have a process that we do think about this and are serious about, you know, doing it right as a community."
Groth said he felt that the police advisory board could be utilized for something like this that and he will check with the city's attorney to look into that process. That could result in the advisory group going over the entire police policy manual — including chapters on use of force — with the advisory board within six months, Groth said.
Use of force has been a hotly debated subject throughout the country in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died after a police officer applied pressure to Floyd's neck for several minutes.
Groth addressed the topic.
"It's important to understand that our use of force is governed by the U.S. and Oregon constitutions," Groth said. "It's governed by state law. It's covered by department policy."
When it comes to use of force by Sherwood police, important considerations are protection and control.
"It's not about being the tough guy, it's not about proving anything," Groth said. "It's about protecting our officers, protecting themselves, protecting other people and gaining control of the situation before it becomes much worse."
Addressing chokeholds and strangleholds, Groth said of his department, "Those are prohibited by policy except when deadly force is justified. We do not train, we do not teach chokeholds, strangleholds, of any type. If an officer is fighting for his life, deadly force is justified, and that changes the dynamics."
Groth said the policy of his department is to de-escalate a situation whenever possible.
"Clearly, you can't predict every incident," Groth said. "There are going to be those incidents where really bad things happen really fast and there's just no opportunity to try to de-escalate or disengage."
Should an officer be involved in any serious misconduct, Groth said, "They're immediately going to be removed from duty and they're going to be placed on leave. We're obviously going to launch an investigation depending on the nature of the complaint or the allegation."
Groth stressed that his department takes any complaint seriously and every complaint is investigated.
Groth said, "Our officers have a duty to report misconduct and a duty to intervene."
In response to a question from Councilor Kim Young about whether citizens can review records of police misconduct, City Attorney Josh Soper said, "Unfortunately, as is often the case with a lot of legal questions, the answer is 'it depends.' The public records law generally makes most public records available to the public. There is an exemption for discipline-related records for public employees."
Soper continued, "And then there's a balancing test that weighs the employee's confidentiality interests versus the public interest in disclosure, so it's really almost on a case-by-case basis that we have to make that determination."
In recent weeks, national headlines have focused on police shootings and when, or if, they are justified.
For Sherwood police, Groth said policy requires an officer to issue a warning before they shoot, when practical.
"Again, there are times when it just all goes down," Groth said, noting that "whenever practical, there's going to be a warning before shooting or any other use of force, for that matter."
Groth stresses that every use-of-force incident in the Sherwood Police Department is reviewed.
"Every use-of-force report is reviewed by a sergeant, by a captain and then by me, every one," Groth said. "I can tell you that it doesn't happen very often. Most of the use-of-force reports I see have to do with taking hold of somebody's arm, controlling them, to get them into handcuffs."
Groth said he values transparency in his police department.
"I am a relational person," Groth said. "I love meeting people. I enjoy coffee. I know that we have to be somewhat cautious and drink coffee through our masks, and stand six feet away from one another, but I think there's still an opportunity for our community to get to know us and for us to get to know our community. That starts with me."
Groth continued, "It's Sherwood's police department, and it's an open book."
Mayor Keith Mays was satisfied with what he heard at the work session, saying, "It's important always to continue to inform members of the city council — certainly the community — on our shared expectations and make sure that we are continuing to reflect on those policies and procedures, and make sure we are doing the best for our community and for law enforcement professionals."
Mays continued, "I think we're doing very well. I think our community members should be proud of Sherwood police officers and the policies they have in place."
Ray Pitz contributed to this report.
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