As conversations continue nationally about how police use force, particularly against minorities, the Riley County Police Department is evaluating its own policies.
During KMAN’s In Focus Friday, RCPD Director Dennis Butler agreed there has been racism in policing nationally but stopped short of calling it a systemic problem. Butler says, at least from what he’s witnessed in his 40 year career, that police don’t purposely target different races or ethnicities to treat them unfairly.
“Mark Twain once said ‘you can torture data until it tells you what you want to hear’ and I believe that,” he said. “Instead of throwing data at each other, we really have to focus on behavior, training and who we hire.”
Butler says if police hire someone who is a bad selection, they need to deselect them and do it faster in some places than what has happened. In terms of chokeholds, Butler says RCPD doesn’t have a policy outlining how and when chokeholds can be used in restraining individuals.
“We don’t train our officers to use neck restraints or chokeholds. It’s not something that we permit, we don’t train it. But our policy doesn’t specifically say you can’t ever use it, which is a big demand,” he said.
RCPD recently released a detailed response regarding its evidence-based policing to 13 policy related questions brought up by Community Advisory Board member and Mount Zion Family Worship Center Pastor Carl Taylor. Butler says going forward the department will look at policy issues where the department can improve upon. He remains firm on his stance of having officers be able to use such a chokehold in a last resort, when an officer’s life is in jeopardy.
“I might tell them if you’ve got to gouge their eyes out, because if you think you’re going to die then they can do that. Now a lot of people don’t want to hear that, but I’ve got to tell you that we don’t train that, I’ve never seen it here nor anywhere,” he said.
Butler says in his 40-year career in law enforcement he himself has never choked anybody, hit anyone in the head or punched anyone in the face ever in using force. He believes the path toward real solutions will be in listening to conversation rather than demanding change.
“Instead of making a demand don’t do this or us sign a pledge, listen to the conversation, listen to general about what we’re saying. In general you’re right, however there are unique situations where I’m not going to prohibit an officer from doing something to protect themselves or save their own life,” he said.
Butler says if chokeholds were outright banned in written policy, then he believes a scenario might exist where an officer uses it in a life or death situation and then gets fired over it.