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National Task force Dekmar serves on makes policing recommendations

Recommendations include ban on chokehold, severe limits on no-knock warrants

Late last year, in the wake of sustained, nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar was selected to serve on a task force on policing formed by the Council on Criminal Justice, an independent, nonpartisan invitational membership organization and think tank.

The task force represents a range of backgrounds, including law enforcement officials, criminal justice academics, activists and other government officials. Its mission is to assess issues around policing, including hiring and training, use-of-force policies, technology, militarization, accountability measures and oversight, to then issue policy recommendations for lawmakers seeking to reform policing.

Now, CCJ has issued its first three policy positions, recommending a ban on chokeholds, a ban or severe limit on no-knock warrants and raids and an emphasis on implementing measures that reinforce officers’ duty to intervene.

For Dekmar, chokeholds are a no-brainer. LPD instructs officers to use less lethal takedown measures, and has never authorized chokeholds in the 25 years that Dekmar has led the department.

CCJ describes chokeholds as having a “unique potential for harm to individuals and to police-community relations.” Perhaps the most infamous case of chokehold use is the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a New York City officer while being arrested for selling cigarettes. Garner’s death led to the widespread use of the slogan “I can’t breathe.”

CCJ recommends that chokeholds be banned everywhere, and that such bans be codified in written policy. Such a ban may not have a large impact on the number of police killings, however, as they represent less than 1 percent of police killings, according to CCJ.

Over the past 10 years, Dekmar estimates that he has approved just two no-knock warrants, one of which was not used.

“Our folks, through training, understand the danger inherent in executing those,” Dekmar said.

Those dangers, CCJ found, are namely the high chance of injury and death to civilians or officers.

“You’re not giving people a chance to orient themselves and respond,” Dekmar said. “They could perceive it as a threat — that somebody’s breaking into their house.”

A New York Times investigation found that from 2010 to 2016, 81 civilians and 13 police officers died in police raids.

No-knock warrants and raids are a tool authorized by judges and used by police when police want to prevent suspects from fleeing, destroying evidence or harming officers. They are often conducted in the middle of the night to preserve the element of surprise.

The well-publicized killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, occurred during a night raid. Taylor’s boyfriend believed the apartment was being broken into and fired a shot, which was followed by officers firing 32 shots into the apartment.

Dekmar and CCJ both recommend that such raids be limited to instances where someone is in imminent danger to people in the building, such as a hostage situation. Dekmar also recommend that police have “excellent information, excellent intelligence” that suspects have fortified a building and are armed before performing a no-knock raid.

CCJ recommends jurisdictions prohibit or severely restrict such raids. It also cautions against “quick-knock” raids, where officers knock but do not wait long enough for someone to respond before breaching an entrance.

Duty to intervene policies mandate that officers intervene when their colleagues are engaged in the wrong behavior and that they report misconduct by their peers. CCJ states these policies are designed to break through the “blue wall of silence.”

CCJ recommends officers intervene if they witness excessive force, and that they be required to report other forms of misconduct. Such policies should be codified and reinforced through training and be accompanied by organizational changes to transform the culture of police.

Dekmar said LPD has trained officers on Duty to Intervene for the past 15 years. There have been incidents where his officers intervened with officers of other agencies, he said.

Many of the recommendations CCJ is making, Dekmar said, are already included in the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies standards and the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police certification. LPD has both certifications.

Part of the problem however, is that of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, less than 1,000 are accredited with CALEA, Dekmar said.

Dekmar believes political leaders must lead the way in making sure their local agencies become accredited.

“When I was Chief of Public Safety, we got the fire department accredited,” Dekmar said. “When the city manager was interviewing fire chiefs, she made it clear and said ‘I expect the fire department to stay accredited.’ There’s got to be leadership from the top.”

Still, compliance with standards set by CALEA, GACP and other organizations is ultimately voluntary, Dekmar said.

“That’s why you see legislative interest in some of these issues because there isn’t a clear understanding of which agencies are addressing these critical tasks … and which agencies are just kind of relying on practice and understanding, as opposed to written directives and training,” Dekmar said.

Dekmar’s peers on the task force will continue to release more recommendations throughout the year.

He said the process has involved lots of Zoom calls, reading material and robust discussions. People interested in the recommendations can read them at https://counciloncj.foleon.com/policing/assessing-the-evidence/welcome/.