Tigard, Tualatin police chiefs address protest marches, use of force scenarios
While protesters continue demonstrations against the death of George Floyd, with some asking for the defunding of city police departments, the anger, outrage and frustration of those protests has not been lost on suburban departments as well.
Both Tigard and Tualatin have seen local protests and marches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"We've got a country and a nation in pain," Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine said in an interview last month. "I mean, this is big, and unfortunately, George Floyd is just the catalyst for reminding the country that there's still institutional racism and structural racism. Proportionally, Black males are dying at the hands of police much higher than any other race. It's a call to action."
McAlpine and Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele were among numerous local police chiefs and sheriffs who signed a joint statement condemning tactics used that resulted in the death of Floyd.
Steele said the video evidence of what happened to Floyd can't be denied.
"Most of us are looking at that going, 'That is not right; that is just not acceptable,'" Steele said. "This goes against what we stand for."
Tigard's community surveys have historically shown strong support for the police department, and city voters passed a local option levy in May that will add eight new patrol officers and a school resource officer to the department, as well as pay for additional de-escalation training for every officer, something Tualatin already does.
"It's really incorporated in every single thing we do not just use of force," said Steele. "It's a basic concept that's ingrained in everything we do," he said.
But despite the positive community feedback, McAlpine said there's still room for improvement among her officers. Like Steele, McAlpine signed onto the #8CantWait campaign, part of a data-driven police reform campaign begun by activists in 2015. She noted the Tigard Police Department is now meeting seven of the eight recommendations. She also participated in a march in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Tigard in June, after being invited by a local business owner.
"I was proud to march with our community," she said. "I was at complete ease, as far as participating."
Chokeholds no longer part of training manual
One area of police reform activists have zeroed in on is the use of chokeholds. Cries of "I can't breathe" have become commonplace at many protests. Six years ago, Eric Garner died after he was placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer. Last month, Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed him against the ground with a knee on his neck. Chauvin was fired and has been charged with murder.
McAlpine said she removed the carotid chokehold from Tigard police's policy manual in 2018 and this month added specific language banning it, noting that any specific restricting of the airway is prohibited "unless you're applying deadly force and you're trying to save your life."
The knee-on-the-neck restraint shown in the video, said Steele, "that's not something we train because any reasonable person would look at that would say, 'there's a high likelihood that you're going to kill somebody with a technique like that.'"
Tualatin doesn't ban chokeholds outright, but have not included chokeholds in trainings for several years, Steele said.
'Due process' important, chief says
The Tigard Police Department skews whiter than the city's demographics. Some 84% of Tigard officers are white in a city that is 73% white, and although Tigard's population is almost 12% Hispanic or Latino, only 6% of Tigard police officers are.
McAlpine said her department is seeking out a diverse pool of candidates, but that pool has become smaller as other departments seek to recruit those candidates as well.
"At the end of the day ... we're still looking for the right officer here," she said.
Floyd's death has had repercussions across the country. Even in Tigard, McAlpine said her own daughter tearfully questioned police actions and even her mother's profession after seeing the video of Floyd's death, which has circulated around the world.
While McAlpine said she used to tell new officers that they are representing herself and the city of Tigard, she now tells them, "You represent this profession, and what you do can have catastrophic impacts across the country."
McAlpine said many officers worry about getting into a situation where they may be required to take a person's life, because of the current sentiments, an officer could get fired and immediately charged with a crime, she said.
"That due process that used to happen, it's not happening," she said. "It is trying times and I've asked the officers to continue doing their job in the manner that I know they do and just continue to engage and continue to support your community. I remind them that just two weeks prior to (Floyd's death) our community supported this police department by passing a levy during a time in a pandemic when people were losing their jobs and that's not lost on us. That is huge."
While the City of Portland is moving to remove its school resource officers, or SROs, Steele said his department has a great relationship with the Tigard-Tualatin School District and has received positive feedback from the community as well. While he doesn't see any immediate changes coming, he believes there will likely be conversations between the district and the police department fairly soon.
That said, he said SROs do more than act as security guards.
"We get a tremendous amount of child abuse reports, sexual abuse reports and those are the officers who deal with a good chunk of those cases," he said.
While he said he believes Tualatin is a good, well-run department, Steele said, "With that, if people have questions, we want them to ask us. We want to be able to work through and talk about the things we do and the things we don't do."
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