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C.O. law enforcement share info with community about anti-bias training

(Update: Adding comments from Redmond PD officer, DCSO captain)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Amid the nationwide outcry over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Central Oregon law enforcement agencies have have been sharing their responses and efforts on social media, including details of the diversity and anti-bias training officers undergo.

NewsChannel 21 spoke Tuesday with Lt. Aaron Wells with the Redmond Police Department to learn about the specific training Redmond police officers are required to go through.

Wells said after officers are hired, they must complete 20 weeks of police academy, 17 weeks of an in-house program and 18 months of probation.

“In total, I’d say it’s about 18 months where you’re monitored regularly on probation, prior to being on your own,” Wells said.

He said officers have regular trainings throughout the year.

“Every year, we have our department training, as well as -- which people may not know -- debrief incidents ourselves," Wells said. "So we look at several things we do on a regular basis and try and ensure those things are done ethically and that we made the right decision at those times.”

Wells said every officer’s goal is to keep members of the community safe, and good communication is key to de-escalating situations, without having to use force.

He said if a person's actions determine there needs to be a greater level of involvement from law enforcement, they could use force, if necessary. He said the response depends on what the person is doing, rather than difference in size or physical build.

“The training is geared toward teaching officers how to best use their voice," Wells said. "Our best tool, if anything, is to talk to people and make people at ease in dealing with us.”

Wells said out of the nearly 31,000 calls Redmond PD received last year, fewer than 1% resulted in use of force.

"Having that perspective, as a person of color, I feel like I'm on this opposite side, where it’s like, 'Well, I'm a person of color, and I'm a cop,'" Wells said.

He said it's important for people to listen to both sides of any discussion, and that includes understanding law enforcement officers are people, too.

"As law enforcement, we have to do more to show we’re people, too, regardless of the uniform," Wells said. "We live in these communities, we’re part of these communities, and we have unique experiences to share with them also.”

On Monday, the Bend Police Department shared their diversity, equity and inclusion training on its Facebook page. 

In a Facebook post, the department said members watch a training video every year regarding bias-based policing. It says it has also been working with two groups outside of the department to bring implicit-biased training. 

Since last September, Bend PD says it has partnered with officers from the Dallas, Texas Police Department who specialize in community relations with communities of color. They had a training session scheduled for April, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bend PD said it has worked closely with the Latino Community Association of Central Oregon on a variety of events.

It has also partnered with Central Oregon Community College and its Afro-Centric Studies club on their Evolve project, a group of performances that explores the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. The project also was postponed due to COVID-19.

Bend PD said it also has crisis intervention training in partnership with Deschutes County Behavioral Health, which is evidence-based, de-escalation training. It says about 77% of the department has completed the training.

The police department started their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion group last October with the goal of increasing understanding, building trust and promoting respect with diverse community members in their outreach efforts.

Bend PD says officers document all traffic stops as part of the STOP (Statistical Transparency of Policing) program and distribute the information to Oregon State Police for data collection.

It says officers do not currently have in-car cameras or body-worn cameras, but that they “feel the body cameras are important and they continue to be in our strategic plans and is regularly being evaluated.”

Last Friday, Bend police posted a statement in response to the death of George Floyd on Facebook, reading in part, “We are saddened that such brutal actions were taken by a few that were sworn to protect. We want our communities of color to feel safe, to feel included and know their lives matter. We want our actions to demonstrate that.”

Redmond Police Chief Dave Tarbet and Captain Devin Lewis posted a statement on the department's Facebook page Saturday, saying Redmond PD is “unified with the Oregon’s Police Chiefs, Sheriffs and the Oregon State Police Superintendent in condemning the reprehensible actions and tactics demonstrated in Minneapolis that resulted in the tragic death of George Floyd."

The statement continued, "As police leaders and on behalf of our law enforcement partners across Oregon, we wish to reassure our residents that we do not condone and will not tolerate this type of conduct.”

Like Bend PD, Redmond police also participate in crisis intervention training, implicit bias and bias-based training, and have partnered with members of the community to address cultural diversity.

On Monday, Redmond PD posted information about its policy on the use of video recording devices.

It says it utilizes body cameras and mobile in-car audio/video recording devices. The patrol vehicle recording devices automatically begin when the patrol vehicle lights go on.

 It says Redmond police officers are required to manually turn on their recording during the following incidents: all field contacts involving actual or potential criminal conduct within video or audio range; all self-initiated activity in which an officer would normally notify dispatch, and any call for service involving a crime where the recorder may aid in the apprehension and/or prosecution of a suspect.

Redmond PD says its officers must not turn off their recording until the incident is complete.

It says body-worn cameras are used during all enforcement and investigative contacts, stops, field interviews and mere conversation type of contacts. 

In addition, they are used in traffic stops, self-initiated activity in which a member would normally notify dispatch (excluding non-suspect follow-up investigations), and in any other contact that becomes adversarial after the initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise require recording.

The body camera is also used when a person is in custody or being detained and generally during any time the officer believes it would be appropriate or valuable to record an incident.

On Friday, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office posted their response to George Floyd’s death, saying, “The video clip of George Floyd taking his last breath while officers sworn to protect him and others did nothing is nothing less than horrific to watch and difficult to comprehend.”

Sheriff's Capt. Paul Garrison told NewsChannel 21 their deputies undergo training to develop verbal communication skills and de-escalation tactics that do not require use of force.

He said the use of force would depend on the individual deputy's assessment of the person or people involved in the incident, and whether they are deemed a threat to the deputy and the public.

The DCSO's training schedule includes training in low-light firearms, defensive tactics and four hours of use of force training. The agency also follows protocol in the STOP program, with Bend and Redmond police.

"We hope we do enough practice that we are appropriate in our responses," Garrison said.

Article Topic Follows: Crime And Courts
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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.

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