Seminar Emphasizes Goodwill, Understanding between Community and Law Enforcement
Second Session Planned For the Fall
by Larry C. Bowers
August 27, 2016
Attendance was a huge disappointment at Saturday’s use-of-force police seminar at the Bradley County Justice Center, but plans are moving forward for a repeat performance later this fall at the Cleveland Police Department.
Co-sponsored by the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the 100 Black Men of Bradley County, the seminar provided a very informative program by Capt. Gabe Thomas, head of the Sheriff Office’s Corrections Division.
The seminar was originally scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday morning, but was rescheduled for 3 p.m. due to conflicts for some of the presenters. Jonathan Porter, 100 Black Men president, said the change may have created difficulties for some people who had planned to attend.
“We’re planning another seminar this fall at the Cleveland Police Department,” said Porter, emphasizing that details on a time and date have yet to be determined.
Two local residents at Saturday’s workshop, Bill Stevenson and Rich Jordan, said they were looking forward to some interaction between members of law enforcement and members of the community. Hopefully this will happen at the fall seminar.
Thomas’ presentation Saturday afternoon was educational and informative, as he discussed issues involving use-of-force by police officers in tentatively dangerous situations.
He emphasized his No. 1 rule is for enforcement officers to “go home to their families at the end of the day!”
The workshop, and Thomas’ program, covered police use-of-force and how officers must use force in certain situations. The first portion of the program discussed the legal justifications of possible developments.
Also attending the seminar were Cleveland Police officers Mike Kelly and Julius Porter, who added input to Thomas’ presentation.
In pre-seminar discussions, Porter emphasized the importance of alliances between the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Cleveland Police Department, the 100 Black Men and other support groups and agencies.
He said these partnerships promote goodwill and better understanding between area law enforcement officers and the people — black, white and all races, as well as men and women — that law enforcement agencies have sworn to protect.
Porter pointed out incidences of violence during the past year in Ferguson, Mo., Falcon Heights, Minn., Baton Rouge, La., Dallas, Los Angeles and most recently in Milwaukee, Wis. Much of this violence was created by use-of-force situations.
Saturday’s seminar was to be the Cleveland and Bradley County community’s response to this type of racial unrest.
Porter and Thomas agree one of the biggest issues involving violence between law enforcement and private citizens — whether or not race is involved — is the lack of communication.
Thomas opened his program by explaining use-of-force criteria for the Sheriff’s Office and the Cleveland Police Department are slightly different but intended to provide the same results.
He went on to explain the Use of Force Continuum, which explains what can develop in a confrontation between a subject and officer, and how it can escalate from an initial intervention to a deadly force scenario. “This can happen almost immediately,” he said.
“The moment an officer arrives on the scene is considered a use of force,” said Thomas. “This is when a person arrives to assess the situation.”
Steps the subject may take can go from psychological intimidation, to verbal non-compliance, to passive resistance, to defensive resistance, to active aggression and the possibility of a deadly assault.
The officer will normally counter these potential steps by the individual by stepping up his or her presence to verbal directions, to soft empty-hand techniques, to hard empty-hand techniques, to the use of intermediate weapons and lastly to deadly force.
Thomas emphasized that the key to any altercation is communication.
He said the most important point of emphasis in his program is the assessment of the totality of the situation.
He explained that he has two sons, ages 4 and 8. He said the younger one may hit the older boy, who then hits him back. The youngest will then claim his older brother “hit me!” Thomas said he will then ask his youngest son, “But, what did you do?” to get to the totality of the situation.
He added some situations between officers and an individual can become severe, due to complacency by an officer. He said it is one thing you learn in training: “complacency can kill.”
Thomas said people should not make uneducated assumptions about a situation you may see on television or the social media. “If you were not there, you don’t really know what happened,” he said.
He added that law enforcement today is not like it was in Mayberry, where Andy would be sitting in the office when Barney comes running in with a report of a boy violating a city ordinance by riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.
Thomas said there is stress at the Justice Center, and there is stress on patrol, pointing out stress at the corrections center is constant, while on patrol it is on and off.
In review, the corrections director said the greatest stress for law enforcement officers is action vs. reaction. “Action (possibly by a subject) is always faster than reaction (by an officer),” he said. “I’ve seen officers who had to fight for their lives. Ninety-five percent of our job is reaction.”
Thomas closed the initial portion of his program by saying the potentiality of deadly assault, the final step on the ladder of possible actions by a subject, is what has hit us recently with violence all across America.
Porter said the 100 Black Men of Bradley County and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office are working together to keep local residents informed on why, and how, police force is sometimes necessary. He added he is looking forward to the next workshop/seminar this fall.
Thomas said law enforcement must be transparent in its interaction with the community.
“We, as a law enforcement entity, should always be transparent,” he said. “We should never be hiding anything from the public, unless it’s an emergency situation or might endanger the public.”
The BCSO captain said law enforcement officers must operate within the law just as they expect area residents to do the same. Thomas said he wants the public to understand how the BCSO operates and to understand the department’s policies and procedures.
He attempted to get that point across Saturday.