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Huntsville Police leaders discuss what they’ve learned in year since Floyd killing

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 7:07 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - In a year since George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin the nation has seen civil unrest unlike anything in recent memory.

We want to make sure we look at people and we see people as human beings and we treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

Huntsville was not immune to the movement sparked by Floyd’s death. Throughout the year, people joined together to protest police brutality and call for equality.

In the wake of a tumultuous year, Huntsville Police Captains Jeffery Rice and Michael Johnson said they recognize the strain put on the relationship between police and communities across the country.

“The community has got to know we are there for them,” Rice said. “And we have to be responsive to the community. We have to work with the community to find out what are the needs in their neighborhoods, what are they wanting from their police department because we work for the community, we work for the citizens.”

Johnson said police use of force was put under the spotlight when Floyd was killed, he said HPD has put an even larger focus on training their officers on it.

“Use of force is something that police officers have to do from time to time, but there is a trained method to carrying out use of force so that is something we are constantly reviewing,” Johnson said.

Another aspect they’re working on is communication.

“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on being able to have effective communication, being able to talk to whoever regardless of their socioeconomic background, wherever they live, the type of job they may have or may not have,” Rice said.

Along with work on communication, Rice said they have more training on implicit biases now.

“We have a lot of training now in implicit biases and making sure that we recognize those biases and that those biases are not transferred to the public,” he said. “We want to make sure we look at people and we see people as human beings and we treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

Across the nation, a topic of discussion for the past year has been the “bad apples” in police departments. Rice said they have a system used for finding those officers.

“We have an early warning system we use through our internal affairs,” Rice said. “We look at those incidences of use of force and if an officer has so many incidents of use of force, we go back and review those incidents to ensure that the officers are following policy and procedure. This can also give us an opportunity to look at our policies to see if there is something we need to change and update.”

Johnson said they’ve added more training for HPD leadership, as well.

“We also put our supervisors through a more robust training program themselves on a yearly basis,” he said.

Johnson said a focus is also on the individual officer.

Use of force is something that police officers have to do from time to time, but there is a trained method to carrying out use of force so that is something we are constantly reviewing.”

“The resiliency and health and wellness of an officer is very critical along with supervision,” Johnson said. “So it’s a combination of things; supervision, insuring officers are well trained and they carry out their duties in a trained way and they continue performing their job in a caring way.”

As for the George Floyd commemoration march on Tuesday, Rice said they have had multiple conversations with organizers to ensure a safe time for everyone involved.

“So we’re always prepared for any type of public disturbance but we do not expect any type of public disturbance,” he said. “This group has been very, very peaceful in working with us, very easy to work with.”

Rice said he plans to be at the march, along with several other HPD officers making sure everyone involved can safely make it from St. John AME Church to Big Spring Park and back.

Going forward, Rice and Johnson both agreed there is work ahead to mend and build the relationship between the Huntsville Police Department and the community.

“You’ve got to build the bridge, you’ve got to build that trust with the community,” Rice said. “They have to know that you care about them, they have to know that you respect them, that you’re going to be there to help them in any way possible. We have to make sure officers understand that there are a lot of people out here that support you and even those who do not support you, we still have to maintain a level of professionalism to do our job.”

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