Lawrence Police Department has updated policies on use of force, comparisons to ‘8 Can’t Wait’

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

A Lawrence Police Department vehicle is seen in this file photo from September 2018.

Story updated at 5:43 p.m. Wednesday:

As the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis continues to ripple across the globe, civilians want to know what is being done to prevent such an incident from happening in their hometowns.

The Lawrence Police Department last week published a new policy manual to its website. The previous published policy on use of force had last been updated in December 2016; the new policy opens with an emphasis on the safety of the public and notes that “officers must have an understanding of, and true appreciation for, their authority and limitations.”

The updated policy also expands from five to 17 factors to consider when determining reasonableness of a use of force. Those include immediacy and severity of the threat, officer/subject factors such as size and relative strength, effects of drugs or alcohol, availability of other options, proximity of weapons, the risk of foreseeable consequences of escape and more.

Regarding use of deadly force, the policy says it may be used for officers to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believe would be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, or to stop a fleeing subject when the officer believes the person has committed or intends to commit a felony involving serious bodily injury or death to any other person if they are not immediately apprehended.

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Campaign Zero, a national organization with the goal of ending police violence, has launched a project called #8CantWait. The “8 Can’t Wait” policies it suggests aim to “bring immediate change” to police departments and “reduce the harm caused by police in the short-term,” according to 8cantwait.org.

Recent weeks have shown, though, that no policy, no matter how well written or strictly enforced, can prevent tragedy. For instance, the campaign lauded a policy on minimal use of force from the police department in Buffalo, N.Y., as a model example for other departments; however, two Buffalo officers are now facing charges after being caught on video shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground on June 4. As of Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that the protester had a cracked skull and was still unable to walk.

Last week, Mayor Jennifer Ananda called for the Lawrence City Commission to discuss various police reforms, including a commitment to the “8 Can’t Wait” policies. Ananda also requested that city staff provide a report to the commission on the police department’s status in regards to each of the eight policies.

The Lawrence Police Department recently posted a graphic on social media that explains its policies that compare with the campaign’s eight. Some align closely; others are less restrictive of officers’ actions. Sgt. Amy Rhoads, public information officer for Lawrence police, referred specific questions on the policies to the graphic and the department’s policy manual.

• LPD policy is to “avoid” chokeholds and strangleholds “unless deadly force is justified.” The campaign recommends banning such holds in all cases because they can result in unnecessary death or serious injury.

Floyd died after an officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck in the street for nearly nine minutes. The department said that was not an authorized hold, but policy did not prevent Floyd’s death.

• LPD officers are trained to use de-escalation techniques “whenever possible,” according to the graphic.

Rhoads noted that the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center does not require training in de-escalation, but LPD teaches it in its academy and continually after graduation. She said most officers — about 78%, currently — have also had Crisis Intervention Training, which teaches tactics to de-escalate mental health-related incidents.

• “When possible,” LPD officers are required to issue a verbal warning before using deadly force against a fleeing felon, according to the graphic. The campaign recommends a warning be required in all situations.

• In regard to the campaign’s recommendation of exhausting all alternatives before shooting, including “non-force and less lethal force options,” LPD’s graphic states: “In a non-rapidly evolving situation, when containment, control, and communication is possible, officers are taught to slow down and establish a perimeter to safe guard the community,” according to the graphic.

• LPD policy states that any officer present and observing another officer using excessive force “shall, when in a position to do so, intercede” and promptly report those observations to a supervisor. The campaign recommends requiring officers to intervene, stop the excessive use of force and report such incidents to supervisors immediately.

• LPD’s officers are trained that shooting at moving vehicles is “rarely effective” and should only be used if there is no other means to avert the threat. The campaign says that 62 people were killed by police “last year” in such situations, though it was not apparent what year it was referring to, and it suggests that shooting at moving vehicles be categorically banned.

• LPD officers are taught to use only the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary, according to the graphic. LPD’s recent policy update breaks weapons into separate categories and lists restrictions for each, as the campaign recommends, though with caveats.

• LPD officers document and report any use of force to their supervisors and are subject to a review of their actions, according to the graphic.

The Journal-World asked whether LPD believes that the flexibility in its corresponding policies makes them sufficient to have the intended impact.

“Our Command staff met with the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, as well as our law enforcement partners in the county to discuss use of force policies and strategies,” Rhoads said via email. “The Lawrence Police Department had existing policies in place that correspond to the calls to action from the District Attorney’s office. Like our partners across the county, we are committed to the ideals these policies support.”

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The Journal-World also asked if Lawrence police had ever participated in “killology” training with retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, or any kind of similar training. “(K)illology focuses on the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations,” according to Grossman’s website, and he travels around the country to train law enforcement.

Rhoads said the department was not aware of LPD ever hosting that type of training. Asked to clarify whether any current LPD employees had attended such training, department spokesperson Patrick Compton said via email Wednesday that some officers attended training from Grossman called “Bulletproof Mind” in 2011 and 2015.

“Unfortunately, as we saw play out in our streets on Monday afternoon, members of this profession could face the unenviable task of taking the life of another human being,” Compton said, referencing an incident in which Kansas Highway Patrol and University of Kansas Office of Public Safety officers shot and killed a suspect who they said was wielding a gun at them.

“This training prepares officers for the potential psychological impacts that can come with taking a human life,” Compton wrote. “Contrary to some beliefs surrounding Bulletproof Mind, it does not teach individuals how to take a life, but how to cope mentally if this is something they are forced to do, and moving forward, continue to function in this profession.”

As recently as last week, Grossman had a number of training dates scheduled with police departments across the country, according to his online calendar. On Wednesday, though, that calendar was blank.

— Journal-World reporter Rochelle Valverde contributed to this article.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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Related coverage

June 15, 2020: A rundown of how Lawrence police can and cannot use their body cameras and how the public can record police interactions

June 14, 2020: City leaders want a stronger police review board, more transparency on complaints against officers

June 10, 2020: Lawrence Police Department finally releases report on use of force in 2019; 17 instances cited; officers’ actions found justified in all

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