Law enforcement agencies around the country are under scrutiny for use of force tactics and policies following the death of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis.
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen and Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels explained policies and procedures for each of their agencies, noting that use of force for their law enforcement officers is based on state statute. They said their officers and deputies are trained to abide by those statutes.
Both the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Alexandria Police Department have in-house instructors on use of force when new deputies or officers are hired, said Wolbersen and Wyffels.
And deputies and officers have to be recertified once a year on use of force training.
Wyffels said when a new officer is hired, even though they went through training while in college, they still have to partake in the department training and have to be certified before they can begin working as an Alexandria police officer.
Every agency has its own use of force policy based on the state statutes, said Wyffels. The 10-page Alexandria Police Department policy was put together by Lexipol, a company that provides public safety policy and training solutions for law enforcement, fire and rescue, and corrections.
The policy provides guidelines on the reasonable use of force, spelling out definitions of terms such as bodily harm, great bodily harm, non-deadly force and deadly force. It also spells out applications and techniques that can be used, along with some of the factors that are used to determine the reasonableness of force, such as effects of drugs and alcohol, mental state, risk, prior contact, age, size, relative strength, proximity to weapons and many more.
The policy also details the procedures used to report use of force, provide medical attention and in the types of possible situations where deadly force would be used.
Wolbersen said deputies are trained in the same manor and that each situation is assessed and re-assessed as it is happening – from the start until the person is safely in handcuffs – and that there are many factors that go into when, if and what type of use of force will be used.
“It (use of force) can increase or decrease according to what is happening,” said Wolbersen. “In the vast majority of arrests, the person is compliant without the use of force.”
Wolbersen said a deputy can draw his/her taser but never use it and that that incident would still be considered use of force even though the taser itself was never used.
Use of force, he said, is documented anytime something other than words is used to gain compliance from a suspect. If a taser is drawn, but not used, it still generates a report, said Wolbersen, noting that the main objective of a deputy is to come to a peaceful resolution without anyone – the suspect , bystander or the deputy – receiving any injuries.
Both the chief and the sheriff said there are many factors that go into use of force situations and that their officers and deputies do the best they can based on their training and each individual situation.