Many of us watched in disbelief as we witnessed the police interaction with George Floyd, which led to his death at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers. It was hard for me to watch and I found myself feeling sad and angry. Sad for the unnecessary loss of life and sad for the Floyd family and their community who are living through this. Angry, because once again, we as a profession can’t seem to get out of our own way and continue to hire officers who find ways to tear apart the very trust and confidence most of us work so hard to build with our entire community. Events like these transcend the thousands of miles where they occur and resonate deeply with our communities of color here in Eugene. Police legitimacy and trust is so fragile and we fight hard for incremental gains. We know that we have a long way to go and fully realize that events on a national level erode the faith and trust in your police department here at home. We are committed to being better. Better every day with our behavior and service to this community.
Training is one of most important foundational pillars to good policing, and it must continue throughout an officer’s career. Recently, I increased our training staff from a single officer and sergeant, to five officers and sergeant and a lieutenant, so we could focus on this area with greater intensity and precision. The tactics we use have policies the officers understand and follow. The policies go through a rigorous review by the Eugene Police Commission for their recommendations. Our officers are accountable to these policies and when we have a high use of force incident, we often stand up an administrative board (Use of Force Review Board), to help us refine policy, training and tactics for future use. We are committed to accountability and through the meaningful work of the Citizen Review Board and the independent Police Auditor, we can achieve a higher standard of service. I’m pleased to announce that in collaboration with the auditor’s office, we are implementing an Early Intervention System that will track officers’ use of force interactions and behaviors through indicators and metrics.
What happened in Minneapolis wasn’t a training issue. No police department trains to kneel on a person’s neck with the full weight of the officer’s body. What happened in Minneapolis was a heart and character issue. When you hire the wrong people who don’t have the capacity for empathy, compassion, and in this case restraint, the outcome should be obvious. Hiring the right people who have a heart for service is where we as a profession should shift our focus. If we have systems in place to hire the right people to serve as law enforcement officers, the training simply gives the officers tools to do their job efficiently and safely for both the officer and the community. The Eugene Police Department is committed to hiring quality human beings first and foremost. Our selection, background and psychological process is as robust as any I have seen in my almost 30 years of policing. We strive to hire on character first and believe we can teach and train them to be police officers second.
One of the measurements that speak to character among our officers is how we spend our discretionary time. This is the time we take to conduct traffic and subject stops in our community. We carefully look at what decisions Eugene Police officers are making, understanding that this is where bias-based policing is often exposed. When interacting with our communities of color, we have a record of equity that has been measured and verified. A report by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission found equity during stops for EPD. Our activity on this front dates back to 2012, and we have been ahead of the curve. Not only in stops, but also in treatment of people who experience bias in our community. We have an active and engaged partnership with Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement to track and report bias crimes. Our officers are trained to note and route any incident or crime that has a bias element for review.
The Eugene Police Department is committed to our values of Integrity, Compassion and Courage as we continue to serve this community. We will continue to work toward being a police department that embodies trust and confidence in all we say and do.