A Brookhaven police officer announced that the department will allow residents the chance to take the same “use of force” training that officers are required to take.

During a Sept. 8 meeting of the city’s Social Justice, Race, and Equity Commission’s policing subcommittee, Major Shameta Jones-Harrell said the Brookhaven Police Department plans to offer the training – which is meant to train officers how to react in high-stress situations – to the rest of the community  in an attempt to educate residents on policing practices. 

BPD spokesperson Lt. David Snively said in an email that as of now, the department plans to offer this training to residents twice a year. Pending COVID-19 case numbers, the department will implement the training early in 2022.  

The city of Brookhaven created the SJREC in September of 2020 following protests over former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd and the wider issue of police brutality. The commission’s goal is to offer recommendations to the city’s mission statement, along with city policies and practices in the areas of hiring and retention, contracting and procurement, and policing. 

Members of the SJREC’s policing subcommittee took the use of force training themselves earlier this year. Many commissioners said they found the training useful, but were left with more questions about other types of training police officers receive, such as training related to internal bias or how to react in everyday situations. Snively said while the public training course is still in the planning stages, it will likely be similar to the training course the commissioners took. That consisted of a day-long training with 3-4 hours of information about laws and court cases regarding officers’ use of force, and then simulations where trainees can act out situations. 

Harrell announced the use of force training while the subcommittee discussed a survey it plans to send to city organizations that the BPD has partnerships with. One of the preliminary survey questions was: “In your contact with the Brookhaven police, do you think they utilized an appropriate level of force?” 

Harrell said she worried about asking residents to judge the actions of a police officer, but commissioners agreed it would be important to gather an understanding of what residents of Brookhaven think is appropriate, regardless of what the law might say. 

“It doesn’t matter if we know 100% that BPD always and forever adheres to the federal [standards]. We know no one does, but let’s say they were perfect in that regard, they adhere to the federal guidelines,” said Co-Chair Monique Hudson. “But if you get an answer here where this overwhelming result is that people feel like the appropriate level was not used, what do you do … with that information?”

Harrell and the commissioners agreed the language in the question would need to be clarified to define force more specifically. The BPD began including use of force statistics in its annual report in 2020. According to the department, officers are required to make a report not just every time they use force, but every time they threaten to use force as well. 

According to 2020’s report, which has no other yearly reports to compare to, out of 2,281 arrests in 2020, police used or threatened to use force 280 times. Of those 280 times, there were 186 instances where an officer threatened to use force, accounting for 8% of all arrests. There were 94 instances where an officer used force, accounting for 4% of all arrests. 

“Force for us, the way that we document it, can be as little as just presenting it – pulling your gun on somebody, or your taser on somebody, to gain compliance,” Harrell said. “People may … not see that as force.”

Hudson reiterated the idea that the survey would be meant to gather an understanding of residents’ perceptions of the police department’s use of force. 

“If [respondents] say they think it’s inappropriate, then regardless of what is actually happening out there, we have a problem,” Hudson said. 

Brookhaven residents can watch the entirety of this meeting and other SJREC meetings on the city’s Facebook page. 

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.