Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore remembers a time decades ago near the start of his career when there wasn’t any use-of-force training.
“You were just left to do what seemed right for you,” he said. “And if you did something wrong, that’s when you found out about it.”
Today, he said they are “training constantly.”
He added that it goes beyond re-reading the policies. It’s more active, such as role-playing scenarios to practice de-escalation.
Police use-of-force policies and practices are again in the national spotlight after the May 25 death of George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
That and the protests that erupted across the country after the events in Minneapolis have pushed some local law enforcement agencies to re-examine and in some cases add to their own department’s policies.
“In our post-Minneapolis world, I think every leader of an organization ought to be looking back at their policies and make sure that they are appropriate given the changes in the policing industry,” Moore said.
The Gazette reviewed the use-of-force policies for the police departments in Janesville and Milton, as well as that of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
The Beloit Daily News also reported on what is happening in the police departments for the city and town of Beloit.
Changes and language
The Milton Police Department’s use-of-force policy does not have anything explicit on a “duty to intercede,” which is something Police Chief Scott Marquardt wants to change.
Chauvin in Minneapolis was arrested May 29. The three officers who were nearby and did not stop what happened eventually were charged with aiding and abetting murder, but they were not charged until June 3 after days of protests.
While Marquardt said the duty has been “culturally” part of the department, he said adding the specific language will make what the organization believes “more apparent” rather than just implied.
Janesville police and the Rock County Sheriff’s Office have listed in their policies a duty for officers to intercede when they see instances of unreasonable force.
Janesville’s policy on using non-deadly force starts by saying the department, “recognizes and respects the value and special integrity of each human life,” and its officers must balance all human interests in achieving public welfare.
But Moore said he didn’t see a similar message in the policy about using deadly force. Maybe it’s more of a symbolic change, but he wanted to make sure that point was reiterated there in writing.
Janesville’s chief of police also said there has been some concern about shooting into moving vehicles. He said his department “all but eliminated it,” except for a small set of circumstances after discussing the topic about a year ago, but he wants to make sure the language is “acceptable.”
Like how Moore said training is ongoing constantly, Marquardt said use-of-force policy is an area that sees continuous change.
“I emailed our use-of-force policy to somebody yesterday, where I pointed out this is a living document,” he said.
But Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson struck a different tone. He has been a use-of-force instructor for nearly 30 years, and he said the program has been “very consistent.”
He said there have been “some minor things that we have added to the program.” One change that came to mind within the last 10 years was to improve skills for ground fighting if an incident moves that way, he said.
Knudson said the lack of change was a credit to how the training was set up years ago.
“I think much of what we’ve seen in Minneapolis and around the country is already addressed in our policy,” he said. “I feel strongly that the program is good, our training is good and our methods for holding people accountable is particularly good.”
Local police officials emphasized the importance of de-escalation and using only the minimum amount of force necessary.
Moore said some equipment changes have come in recent years, such as body cameras and Tasers.
But he said he is always telling others in the department that they need to be examining what problems are coming up across the country when it comes to policing.
“Then we need to be leaning forward and taking charge and training ahead of time before something bad happens by us,” he said.
After Eric Garner’s 2014 death in New York by an officer’s chokehold, the phrase “I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry at protests, as has happened following Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s death also has brought renewed questions about police using such a tactic.
“I have been here for more than 30 years, and chokeholds and neck restraint has never been a part of our program here,” Knudson said of the sheriff’s office.
He said it’s possible circumstances in a given incident would require an officer to use a chokehold if there is a perceived need for deadly force. But that use of force would be evaluated as an untrained tactic that was either justified or unjustified, he added.
Moore said similarly.
The word “choke” might not be in Janesville’s use-of-force policy, but Moore said the department’s training has for more than three decades said chokeholds and pressure to the neck “are not acceptable.”
“It’s so ingrained with our officers,” he said. “Policy can never capture everything that we train. So it’s always important that the policy works cooperatively with the training.”
The Milton Police Department has an entry about chokeholds in its use-of-force policy that says, “Chokeholds in and of themselves are not permitted unless being used in a deadly force situation.”
“That’s the explicitness that I do want to take a look at,” Marquardt said. “Because the language and the semantics (do) matter and make sure that it’s not squishy—and to say right in there, ‘prohibited unless,’ I think helps us do that.”
Reporting and review
Police officials emphasized that all use-of-force incidents are reported and reviewed, which they said helps hold officers accountable.
Departments also release their figures. Some recent data show:
- Janesville police in 2019 saw 54 reported incidents where force was used. Moore has previously said the data has been relatively steady over recent years.
- Rock County sheriff’s deputies on patrol in 2018 (the most recent year of data from the sheriff’s office) reported 86 uses of force, which was down from 109 in 2017.
- Officers at the Rock County Jail in 2018 reported 87 uses of force, which is down from 92 in 2017.
- Milton police in 2019 accounted for 10 documented use-of-force incidents, two of which involved injured/sick animals.
Of note, these departments are not all the same size, which affects the raw figures.
When officers kill someone, outside agencies are brought in to investigate. For other less serious instances of force, local use-of-force policies call for reviews of each instance to make sure the officers were justified.
For example, Knudson said the first-line supervisor, lead use-of-force instructor and the chief deputy (or another administrator) review every incident. Sometimes, more will look at them.
“So, these are getting reviewed over and over and over,” Knudson said. “And it’s getting reviewed from different perspectives.”
Police in Beloit
Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said “in no circumstance would the compression of someone’s neck be an appropriate use of force” in attempting to take someone into custody in Beloit.
In a May 29 letter to the community, Zibolski denounced the actions of the Minneapolis police officers during George Floyd’s arrest and death, calling the incident “horrifying, heartbreaking and deeply disturbing.”
Use-of-force data for Beloit shows officers applied force to arrest people in 117 of the department’s 3,555 arrests in 2019, with arrests accounting for 6.5% of the 54,479 calls for service last year.
Deadly force was used by Beloit police in the Dec. 10 shooting death of Montay S. Penning, 23, of Janesville, after a foot chase in the 1800 block of Harrison Avenue. Evidence presented by Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary from a state independent investigation appeared to show Penning was armed during the incident and had pointed the weapon at officers.
Because it was ruled the three officers were justified in Penning’s death, no use-of-force policy changes were made after the incident. Zibolski said no policy breaches were found as part of an internal department review of the incident that followed the state investigation.
Based on 2019 use-of-force data, more than 40% of people subjected to use of force were believed to be under the influence of drugs, alcohol or suffering from a mental health episode.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, Zibolski met with clergy and community members to begin planning future “Conversations With The Community” outreach events, and peaceful protests in Beloit last week urged the department to consider making policy changes related to body cameras.
No dates have been announced for the expected outreach events.
Town of Beloit Police Chief Ron Northrop said township officers are “not trained to use chokeholds or put any pressure on the neck or spine area of a person in a prone position or at any time during an arrest situation.”
“These tactics aren’t trained and are not accepted,” Northrop added.
The department’s use-of-force policy outlines a series of “unarmed hand strikes, foot strikes, forearm strikes, knee strikes, or body stuns” that can be used by officers in making an arrest.
Northrop said officers are trained to use Defense and Arrest Tactics, a system of communication skills coupled with physical alternatives to gain compliance.
“While the use of reasonable physical force may be necessary in situations which cannot be otherwise controlled, force may not be resorted to unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or would clearly be ineffective under the particular circumstances.”
If found to be using excessive force, officers are subject to disciplinary action, along with potential criminal and civil liability.
Austin Montgomery of The Beloit Daily News contributed to this report.