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WVTF Civil Discussion Series: Police use of force

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Category: culture Video duration: WVTF Civil Discussion Series: Police use of force

In this Radio IQ Civil Discussion, William Fralin moderates a discussion of police use of force with guests Claire Gastañaga, formerly of the Virginia ACLU, and Chief Maggie DeBoard, of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Last year, Virginia and the United States were rocked by the deaths of several African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Calls for change and accountability grew to a roar. But the issue existed long before the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, and it certainly hasn't gone away. So can we build more understanding about the concerns of citizens, officers, and reformers? In this first installment of Consider This, we will examine how law enforcement may or may not be changing after a groundswell of reforms with the idea of trying to find common ground. Welcome. In this episode of consider this, we're going to talk about law enforcement and the use of force. Too often in America these days, we are talking at each other and not with each other. Our goal in this show is not to convince you that you're right or you're wrong. But hopefully at the end you'll have a better understanding of why people think the way they do and why they've come to the conclusions they've come to. Today, we have with us Claire Castanaga, who recently wrapped up a long tenure as executive director of the ACLU of Virginia and Maggie DeBoard, who is head of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. She's president of that organization and also Chief of Police in Herndon. So Claire, we'll start with you. How did you land in Virginia? I am the daughter of a man who served 39 years in the United States Army and retired as a four-star general. And I've lived in lots of different places, but I graduated from high school in Northern Virginia and Annandale. My mother was an advocate for access to education for people with developmental disabilities. I have a brother who's an autistic savant, and my dad was standing up for integration of military units at Fort Hill in the 50s and won an award in 1978 from the Federally Employed Women's Program for advancing women and minorities in the military. So advocacy is in my blood, in my genes, and in my life experience. And I came back to Virginia after Michigan State, where I went to undergraduate school to go to law school at UVA. I was fortunate enough to be able to get in then. Probably wouldn't be able to these days. But and, and pretty much stayed connected to Virginia ever since. What was your first memory of an interaction with a police officer? Probably being picked up in the unauthorized areas of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii by the military. Who, who, whose morning report went on my father's desk in the morning because he was the Chief of Staff of division at the time. So I mean, I, I interacted with military authority and law enforcement authority from the time I was a kid. Interesting. So Maggie how did you land in Virginia? I grew up in Maryland and I came over to Virginia to go to school at George Mason. And that's what landed mean in Fairfax. Right before I graduated, I had applied to Fairfax County Police and became an officer there. And that's pretty much where I spent the first 26 years of my career in Fairfax. It's the largest agency, pretty much in the state. So there were a lot of opportunities to different jobs there. And I started as a patrol officer and spent years at a couple different stations. And so I got to, Northern Virginia's a melting pot so I got to work in a lot of different communities, which was very helpful. Then I worked in an undercover drug unit for years. And then from there, I worked in, I commanded the SWAT team there for four years, the squad and bomb team. I was able to work in the helicopter unit for a year and a half. I did my time in my administrative jobs. I worked ,worked on community bicycle teams. I commanded a district station, which is it's kind of it's own community in and of itself. And worked my way up to deputy chief before I left and retired from that agency. And towards the end of that, I had an opportunity to go work for the town of Herndon as their police chief. And I have spent my last nine years there. I had very little interaction with authorities growing up but my neighbor was a D.C. police officer. My neighbor's son and I were very close friends through elementary school and we played ball together and stuff like that. And so he took me to work a couple of times and I got to turn around a little bit about him, but he seemed just like a normal person. So he kinda took the stigma off police officers for me And this is just my neighbor. Yeah. And I developed a little interest, didn't think I'd go that path and then at some point it just kinda clicked on me in college that's what I wanted to do. And then I pursued that path from there. That's a terrific story. So I can see, see your backgrounds and how you arrived, where, where you arrived. And that's, that's really tremendous. So I want to show something and I don't want people to think that we're trying to minimize this issue because it's a very serious issue but Chris Rock had to take on this that I thought was pertinent. And, and it reflects both the pressure on the police officers in the moment and it reflects the importance of the issue. So let's look at that real quick. Like, I know, It's hard being a cop. I know it's hard... I know that.. . S&*! is dangerous. I know it is. Okay. But some jobs can't have bad apples. Okay? Some jobs everybody gotta be good. Like pilots. Some jobs you have to be totally accountable. You have to have a zero tolerance for any shenanigans, regardless. Absolutely. Most of my dealings with the police are good. But yes. There's a percentage that's like why, why are you? A cop a couple of years ago Just like, "What are you driving around here for?" He stopped to you? Yeah. What did he say? He said, "you don't live around here do you?" And I'm looking at him like no, you don't live around here. So, so that you know that, that is where the law meets the everyday citizen is, is with the police officer. That's, that's where we have confrontations. I want to show now just a little bit and we're going to talk about interactions and deescalations. So let's look at these videos, it's a series of three videos. And then I want to get your thoughts about, about these videos. [sounds of taser] On May 14th, 2018, 24-year-old biology teacher Marcus-David Peters of Richmond, crashed his car in the midst of a mental health crisis. This young black man was shot by Richmond Police officer after an attempt to use less lethal force with a taser, had failed to subdue him. The Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney declined to press charges. Peter's family was outraged but a second Commonwealth's Attorney came to the same conclusion and the officer was cleared. In 2020, the General Assembly passed legislation to change the way police and other first responders are to approach situations where individuals are any mental health crisis. [Video plays 427, shots fired.] [Has anybody seen me commit a crime?] ["...we have to investigate it."] In December 2020, Real estate photographer, an Army veteran, Marlon Crutchfield, a black man, challenged being approached by police while taking pictures of a home in Arlington, near a military base. Apparently a neighbor had called the police. [Police audio] [Police audio recording] [Why do you need to run my ID?] [unintelligible] [unintelligible] ["It's very clear."] We already police each other as if we see an officer getting upset or he's getting emotional, on scene we remove them from that. Not all interactions between police and Richmond residents were confrontational last summer. Here's Richmond Police officer Christopher Shore and Richmond resident Marquise Rose discussing the use of force at a Black Lives Matter rally last summer. ["Every officer is not a bad officer Not a bad officer. And I want people to know that whether they're Black, white, Hispanic, whatever color. But at the same time they are also had officers out there and those officers need to be identified, removed from the streets or as we say, retrain offices, where people like officer Shore could train them."] So those are three, three incidents that were captured. I'd be interested to hear your reaction to that. So we'll start with, Maggie, what do you think? So three different videos. What's important to understand Chris Rock just talked about it, about, you know, there's, there's the jobs that you can't have bad apples in, right? We kind of agree with that. But this is the problem when you look at what the police are. The police are just part of the microcosm of all institutions in society and in every institution, we are we're part of this country. So you have officers that have bias, you have officers that, you know, maybe don't do the right thing and it's important for us to try to weed them out. That's our job is to not bring those people into the profession. Or once we determined we have those people is to separate him from the profession. That's important that we do that. But the videos that you showed different approaches to things. You have in the very last video, you have the officer working, it looks like with a protest, with a group and communicating and trying to explain why they're there and what their job is and what they have to do. But that was clear to me in that last video, that there was trust with the police department in that community. And that's where all of that dialogue starts when that trust is in place. The second video, the one where it looked like it happened on the front porch. To me, it's clear in that video that the officers are probably called there for a complaint and they're trying to figure out why are we here and what is our legal authority to be here? And it looks like they're doing a good job just trying to say, hey, it's okay, we're just trying to figure this out and it looks like they're going to go on their way. Fair enough, fair enough. What did you think, Claire? Well, I know a lot about the first video from the very beginning, the officer's interaction with him was very aggressive and he could have backed off. He could have waited. I mean, yes, the guy was running around naked. Yes, he was on the edge of I-64. And so taking some action to, to close off the closest lane, doing some things that would have given a greater scope for behavior to take place. But instead, he really got in the guy's face immediately and tried to tase him unsuccessfully. And then as he was moving away from him, he shot him and he killed him. I think everybody feels that maybe in this particular case, having looked at all the facts, it wasn't wasn't justified or it could have been handled in a different way. But I think what it really illustrates is the importance of thinking about what we call a crime and, and who we call in those circumstances and how we engage. And it is, I think in the same way that we've, unfortunately in our schools expected our teachers to be more than teachers, social workers and nurses and all kinds of things. We're expecting our police to, to do things that they shouldn't be doing and we should be re-imagining what public safety looks like. So police are doing policing and not public health enforcement, not, not responding to mental health crises, not dealing with homelessness and poverty issues by criminalizing them. In the case of the Arlington officers, I've often stayed in Sheraton, right. So I know exactly where that is. They have an unconstitutional ordinance in that in that locality that invites that kinda confrontation because they're asking for ID in a circumstance in which they don't have any right to it. So the question that comes to my mind then is in the same way, why would officers be asking questions in that circumstance that they don't have a constitutional right to an answer to. And and there have been times when I think constitutional policing would look like a circumstance, for example, where you didn't ask somebody to consent to a search unless you had independent probable cause to do it anyway. Those kinds of things, so all of them illustrate opportunities for a different approach. Maggie, so what I hear Claire saying is that those interactions, there are certain constitutional rights that individuals have and they may not be aware of, but that we don't want to push people into into waiving those. What do you think? Police chiefs like myself can put policy in place that you should have something other than the fact that I just want to ask you, because then you take the bias out of it, right? If I just walk up to you and I say, William, I, can I search your car, that shouldn't be happening unless there's something else going on to make you think I have reasonable belief at least to think that I need to search. Certainly, even in a consent situation, because if I don't have that, then is very easy if you're African-American or Hispanic or Asian to think that they're asking me that strictly for that reason. Right. So we tried to make sure that policies reflect, you know, good good practices. That's culturally a shift that is, is happening in many places. It needs to continue to happen. And we don't deny the bad cases that we see across the country, not just now, but have happened historically. The community gets where did they get their input about what the police do? Where they get that? They get it from, what they see on the media. And the media is nothing but negative about our interactions with the community. We have in this country, generally about a million interactions with the public every day throughout almost a million police officers across the country. And the majority, 99% of those interactions are really positive interactions. So trust has to be built somewhere in the problem is how do we build trust when all the community is seeing is the negative stuff that's being put out by the media. So we have a heavy lift right now. We have to show them what we see on national media doesn't define us as a profession. We know we have to get better. We are making strides to do that, but change doesn't happen overnight. It's that cultural shift that we are making, that we know we need to make, but we have to keep public trust as we're making that pathway forward. Yeah. So, so what I hear Maggie saying is that particularly in environment we find ourselves in now that there's, you know, there's not going to be a routine traffic stop that gets on the news right? Where everybody behaves and everybody knows what they're supposed to do. It's, it's, it's, it's more of an outlier situation. But I suspect Claire what you would say is that you would probably concede that but that those, the stakes are so high to Chris Rock's point that the stakes are so high that when we have a problem, it's a big problem. Is that fair? Look, we put out, the ACLU of Virginia put out an agenda for police reform in 2017 and I have to say the good news is a number of things on that agenda have come to pass, including something the chief supported which was making misconduct grounds for losing your license to police in Virginia, your certification from the state. But we don't see every day the routine airplane flights either and we don't see we don't see all the doctors that every day do great surgeries. I mean, I've said relatively frequ