HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) -The city council wrapped up a three-hour meeting diving into a report on how Huntsville police officers responded during the June 2020 protests Wednesday night.
One thing everyone can seem to agree on is there are many opportunities to get better. The City Administrator says officers are very well trained but will continue that training. WAFF was inside City Hall when the special session took place. Here are some of the concerns that were addressed.
”The main takeaway is we have a lot of work to do,” Chief Mark McMurray said.
Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray says he acknowledges there was a lot of miscommunication during last summer’s protests. That was laid out in a 248-page report, last week from independent attorneys on behalf of Huntsville Citizens Advisory Council. City Administrator John Hamilton went before the City Council Wednesday to respond to that report and wanted to make it clear, the city’s legal team did not refuse to provide the records of officer training.
Hamilton says printing the records would not have been feasible, as it would have been thousands of pages, but that the independent counsel did not voice concern about not receiving them. He also added it’s true the city did not require the officers to interview, but followed up by saying:
“There were some places where it referred to the city not compelling them, which is accurate and other places where it made it sound like the city actually prevented them from speaking or barred them from doing so and that would not be accurate,” Hamilton said.
We asked chief McMurray whether officers would be disciplined for specific incidences highlighted in the report like body cameras showing officers refused to help injured protesters.
“We’re looking forward to looking through that and see if we can find those locations and that’s under review now,” McMurray said.
In closing, Hamilton encouraged all concerned community members to look at the written directives for the department online.
“The written directives guide everything we do. So If there’s something you think the police department should do differently, the written directives is what has got to change,” Hamilton said.
McMurray says he’s looking forward to moving forward.
“We don’t want this to happen. This hasn’t happened from Huntsville for many, many years and we don’t want it to happen again,” McMurray said.
After Hamilton’s address, council members had the chance to respond and express their concerns. Every council member recognized HPD’s efforts in a positive way, but the two most expressed concerns were the need for transparency from both sides and more community outreach.
“There are three sides to every truth and that body cam footage is as close to the middle as we are ever going to get,” says District 5 Representative, John Meredith.
Multiple council members say the public should have the right to view bodycam footage for reviewed complaints. Council members say this would hold a level of accountability for taxpayer dollars.
“We can’t have an us vs. them,” said District 1 Representative, Devyn Keith.
Community outreach is also at the top of the list which focuses on rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community.
“Emphasis should be placed on positive contact and I think that is something we can work towards in the future,” says District 4 Representative, Bill Kling.
Some council members say they trust HPD, but law enforcement lost control when other agencies got involved.
“It just seems like HPD lost control of the situation, not because of their own accord, but because of the other law enforcement that was brought in to assist HPD,” says Meredith.
“I am going to say this for the public record. I do not want the sheriff’s deputies anywhere near our citizens in this city. Unless our Chief is in charge, and they adhere to all the same policies that our police department has because we are the best,” says District 2 Representative, Frances Akridge.
Mayor Battle closed the meeting by stating we are learning from June 1st and June 3rd and every day since and we will continue to get better.
“We take the lessons learned from each of those and we as a community turn into a better community,” says Mayor of Huntsville, Tommy Battle.
Both community members and law enforcement have expressed they realize this is just the beginning of many conversations and say they will continue to work to improve Huntsville.
On the community side of things, these discussions will continue to be brought up at city council meetings. Frances Akridge suggests the community start having round table discussions without cell phones and cameras, so everyone can give honest opinions.
For HPD, Hamilton, says they are going back through bodycam footage and critiquing officers and will provide further training.