THIS IS THE SECOND of two articles looking at policies and procedures at area police agencies for handling calls where force is necessary.
George Floyd was killed May 25, when Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis Police Department officer, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and face-down on the pavement.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder. Three officers who watched were fired and are facing criminal charges.
The Dominion Post asked the Morgantown Police Department, Westover Police Department, Star City Police Department, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office, West Virginia University Police Department and Granville Police Department a series of questions, including:
- What steps does your department take to prevent incidents of police brutality?
- In the last five years, have any officers in your department been disciplined or fired for use of force? If so, who and when?
- Does your department approve the “knee on the neck” method of restraining someone, combative or not?
- What kind of training do your officers receive on preventing police brutality? Who leads these sessions? How often are they held? What is covered?
- Do officers in your department have any training on racial sensitivity/equality? How often is such training held?
- Have senior leaders in your department talked to officers about what happened to Floyd? What was said?
- Is your department examining its policies because of what happened to Floyd? Which ones? What changes, if any, are being made?
- How can someone who interacted with your department file an excessive force complaint?
- How does your department deal with those complaints?
- Would your department be opposed to a civilian review board with the power to investigate and, if needed, discipline officers who use excessive force or who are involved in shootings?
- If an officer is suspected of being racially intolerant, how is that handled?
“I will not tolerate any form of bias, whether it be for race, sex, gender, religion or political views,” Chief Tom Varndell said.
Officers receive training when it is made available by qualified and certified people in the field, typically in eight-hour courses, he said. Most recently, the officers had training offered by the West Virginia University Police Department about bridging the gap between generations.
The class was taught by officers and had a panel of students, a psychologist and other police chiefs, Varndell said. At the end, there was a “candid discussion” about what students expect from officers and what officers expected from them.
“Our officers will continue to stay up-to-date as long as I am in command,” Varndell said.
The knee to the neck method is not an approved method and no officers have been trained to use it, he said.
If someone wants to file an excessive force complaint, they should contact Varndell. He would direct them to fill out a statement, preserve any evidence of a criminal or policy violation and then ask the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office or the West Virginia State Police for an impartial review.
“If it is determined that there was a violation of the law or rights, they would criminally charge the officer,” he said. “If it is determined that there was a violation of policy, I would then determine whether it is a training issue or an insubordinate officer and retrain or punish said officer accordingly. ”
There have been no complaints of excessive force in the past five years, according to Varndell.
Varndell has spoken to his officers about what happened to Floyd.
Officers were told the department does not support excessive force or denying aid to anyone injured while being arrested. If a suspect is combative, officers are to use the minimum force needed. And if the suspect is hurt, officers are supposed to offer whatever aid they can until medics arrive.
Varndell is reviewing all the department’s policies and updating those necessary, something he started prior to Floyd’s death, he said.
Varndell said he welcomes input from the public on how they are treated by officers but he has mixed thoughts on a civilian review board.
“I don’t believe I would like the idea of a person who does not understand all of the aspects of the job making policy or taking disciplinary actions,” he said. “I would never attempt to tell a surgeon how to operate or discipline the doctor for malpractice. It is done by the peers of the profession they are in. I believe there should be a professional standards review board, which we have here in West Virginia. They dictate to us how many hours of minimum training we have to have each year, they also make decisions on the status of certifications, after an officer has been fired.”
“Any citizen has access to this information,” Chief Rick Panico said. “All they have to do is come in, and I will provide answers to all these questions, and any other question they may want an answer to.”
He said he didn’t think media was the proper platform for this discussion and didn’t believe his answers would be represented properly.
“I choose to respond to any citizen that would like an honest and informed discussion on how to fix this problem,” Panico said. “And even if it’s a hundred citizens every day, seven days a week, I’m always available for this discussion because this discussion has always been needed, it’s just a sin to say that all of a sudden [it] became important after an incident where a citizen died, at the hands of the people who swore to protect him.
“In conclusion, compare the answers you receive from all these different police administrators, I bet their answers will pretty much be the same,” he said. “The question should be ‘Why are these answers almost the same?’ ”
West Virginia University
Officers at the WVU Police Department are trained in defensive tactics, arrest procedures, use of force and other areas, Chief W.P. Chedester said. Officers are required to know and practice policies and procedures.
Training is done yearly by the department’s training division and outside instructors, Chedester said. The topics covered include defensive tactics, search and seizure tactics, arrest procedures and use of force.
The knee on the neck method is not allowed by the department and in the past five years, no officers have been disciplined or fired for their use of force, Chedester said.
Complaints can be filed by going to the UPD station or contacting the department by phone or its website, he said. The complaint is reviewed by command staff and, if needed, an internal investigation is done. If the complaint is valid, “appropriate disciplinary action is taken under university/department policy.”
There has been one complaint of excessive force in the past five years, according to Chedester.
The department has had conversations about what happened to Floyd, but Chedester did not elaborate on what was said.
Policies are constantly being evaluated regardless of any individual incident, he said.
The Granville Police Department did not respond to the emailed questions. During a phone call several days after the request was sent, Chief Craig Corkrean said he’d forgotten to respond, but would provide answers by the end of the next day. Those answers were not received in time for this report.