'It's going to hurt us for decades': Local law enforcement agencies see fallout in George Floyd case

Published: May. 29, 2020 at 5:44 PM EDT
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Friday, May 29, 2020

News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- What’s happening in Minnesota will cause ripple effects on community relations with law enforcement, if you ask officers in the CSRA. Its about continued training, bias sensitivity, and transparency -- all of which local agencies say can be improved.

"I can’t breathe" were George Floyds’s final words and his death sparked protests and a blaze of unrest.

The Burke County Sheriff’s Office is just one of the local agencies not mincing words to condemn the officer involved.

“Obviously it is extremely troubling," Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams said. "It is very disheartening. It is an embarrassment to the profession.”

He calls it a re-opened wound for communities who’ve historically struggled to trust the police.

“And it’s going to hurt us for decades," Williams said.

We have reviewed the policies and training measures for each agency from Aiken to Richmond. We found that deputies are authorized to use force when their lives are threatened or when a subject resists. Even so, the knee-maneuver is not permitted according to all local agencies' policies.

We also found each department has completed its racial bias sensitivity training, but it’s only required once per year. Some argue the standard should be continuous throughout the year.

“Officers' reactions are dictated by the subject's actions. So if a person presents some level of threat, then the officer is authorized to use necessary and reasonable force," Williams said. “But once he starts to comply, we have to comply and once he backs off, we have to back off."

At the state level, these are the recommended guidelines too.

Although CSRA sheriff’s offices stress that their officers mostly just want to do the job and make it home alive, they also recognize the current strains on community relations and they’re looking for ways to improve connections.

“They’re going to pull over a car for speeding and the first words out of the violator's mouth will probably be, ‘Don’t do to me what y’all did to George Floyd,’ and the officer is going to find himself in a defensive position, undeservedly so, undeservedly so, but he has to understand," Williams said.

It’s that mutual understanding, both sides say is critical in a time as painfully historic as this one.

The Georgia Association of Chief of Police issued a statement as well, calling the video shocking and say George Floyd's death should not have happened. They also called on actions against the officers involved.

Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police full statement on Minneapolis Use of Force Incident:

"We were shocked by the video from Minneapolis. It documents the death of Mr. George Floyd while in police custody. It also documents a death that should not have occurred. It is our desire that a thorough investigation into the incident be conducted by the appropriate state and federal agencies. The investigation and subsequent findings should be driven not by political pressures, but rather the evidence and facts. We want, and expect, the officer(s) to be held accountable for their actions.

Law enforcement officers hold a unique position within our society. They have the power, with or without due process, to deprive a person of their liberty, property, and sometimes, their life. Because of this power, they must be held accountable for their actions. The citizens would not accept anything less, and neither should we.

Police chiefs and police officers across the State of Georgia have invested a great deal of effort to develop and promote community trust of the police. It is never a 'one and done' effort, but rather a continuous and purposeful desire to build and strengthen the connection with and the trust of the community we serve. When a very small percentage of law enforcement officers act outside of the law and/or policy and fail to uphold their oaths, it is a negative reflection upon all of us."

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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