Clarksdale’s Mayor and Board of Commissioner have revised city employee and police policy for dealing with the public and specifically the use of force by officers.
The votes come after the nationwide discussion about police brutality brought on by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the city’s desire to restore community support and trust in their police department.
“We have had incidents in Clarksdale,” said Mayor Chuck Espy. “We are looking at this new policy because we want all citizens to feel safe, especially when it comes down to the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Monday’s discussion basically centered on two policy changes: One involves all city employees interacting with the public and personal conduct; and the second dealt with changes in the police department related to use of force, body-cameras, training and community policing.
Police Chief Sandra Williams said she was Ok with the changes, but repeatedly said the department has followed state guidelines and city guidelines for use of force and officers are held accountable if they go outside that policy.
“I hope our officers know when they cross that line,” said Williams. “The current policy doesn’t state what they should or should not do in an event.”
Espy said he wanted to remove that ambiguity and set policy that is very clear.
Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk said he felt the policy needed to be clear.
“This is one thing they should know is in black and white,” said Plunk referring to the policy for use of force. “They should know – they need to know – when they step over the line.”
Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey asked Chief Williams if she was comfortable with each new policy change before the board voted.
“I really think this board could be overstepping its boundaries,” said Murphey. “I trust our chief. I think the state’s policy is through and we just need to be very careful what we tell police they can and cannot do.”
Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals asked for policy requiring officers to step in, stop and then report violations to the city’s policy for use of force.
“I want to see they are duty bound to report to their supervisor,” said Seals. “If a police officer observes another officer using force inappropriately, they must intervene and that must be reported to a supervisor.”
Espy was adamant about two points in the policy change: Not shooting a fleeing suspect; and not abusing a person in handcuffs.
After more than 30-minutes of discussion, commissioners voted to approve all changes to city and police policy.
City Employee Policies
All City of Clarksdale employees are restricted by policy concerning:
● Disorderly conduct during working hours or on a work site, or as a result of employment related discord
● Profane or abusive language towards supervisors, department heads, fellow employees, members of the public or others
● Committing acts of violence, whether on or off the job
● Deliberately or willfully causing bodily injury to a member of the public while on duty or during working hours, or as a result of the employee’s duties or other employment-related discord without authority of law
● Menacing or threatening bodily injury or harm to a member of the general public, while on duty or during working hours or as a result of the employee's duties or other employment-related discord.
● Engaging in a pattern of violent behavior or willful and/or wanton brutality or cruelty to anyone, including a prisoner or person in custody or under arrest or sentence, providing the act committed was not lawfully done in self-defense or to protect the lives of others or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully in custody.
City of Clarksdale Police Policies
All police officers are bound by policy concerning:
● Use of force and deadly force
Human life is sacred. Protecting innocent human life is the most important mission of the Clarksdale Police Department. Apprehending non-violent suspects and criminals is less important than protecting innocent human life, including the protecting of the office’s own life.
Officers maintain a constant readiness and ability to act in instances where, in their perception, the use of force or deadly force may be appropriate. By maintaining readiness and capacity, officers reduce the likelihood of opposition and of the actual need for a forceful response of any kind. While officer discretion is critical, the need for accountability and control of police activities is necessary to limit abuses of authority. Officers will only use the amount of force reasonably necessary to protect life and enforce the law under guidelines established by this policy manual.
● Taser X26P Electronic Control
The Clarksdale Police Department authorizes the use of only that level of force that is reasonably necessary and, in furtherance of that policy, utilizes the Taser X26P Electric Control device (“Taser”) to safely and effectively subdue violent or potentially violent individuals thereby minimizing the likelihood of injury to officers, the public and suspects.
● Chemical Agents- Oleoresin Capsicum
Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray and similar chemical spray agents are authorized for use as a non-deadly force option by officers of this Department when officers are trained in its use and decontamination.
● Body-Worn Cameras
Body-worn cameras are an effective law enforcement tool that can reduce violent confrontations and complaints against officers. Body-worn cameras provide additional documentation of police-public encounters and may be an important tool for collecting evidence and maintaining public trust.
The Clarksdale Police Department has adopted the use of body-worn cameras to accomplish several objectives, including:
1. Body-worn cameras allow for accurate documentation of police-public contacts, arrests and critical incidents. They also serve to enhance the accuracy of officer reports and testimony.
2. Audio and video recordings enhance the Department’s ability to review probable cause for arrest, officer and suspect interaction, evidence for investigative and prosecutorial purposes and to provide additional info for officer evaluation and training.
3. Body-worn cameras may also be useful in documenting crime and accident scenes or other events that include the confiscation and documentation of evidence or contraband.
New Police Policies
● Any officer in charge of training new recruits or newly hired certified officers must be properly trained themselves and must be employed by the Clarksdale Police Department for a minimum number of years.
● Once a person is properly detained and secured in handcuffs, Police Officers may not use aggressive, violent, or deadly force on that person. Police Officers using such unnecessary physical force on a handcuffed person shall face termination.
● Community policing shall be an integral part of the mission of the Clarksdale Police Department. Actively participating in community policing shall be mandatory for all officers on patrol during each and every shift.