By Crystal Burns
The Trenton Police Department has joined law enforcement agencies across the state in reviewing two crucial policies, leading to revisions of its use of force policy and a new duty to intervene policy.
Chief Bill Cusson highlighted the policies for the Trenton Mayor and Board of Aldermen at the Sept. 8 City Council meeting, saying the State of Tennessee is one of the leaders in the nation in developing consistent policies for all its law enforcement agencies to follow.
“This is obviously a very hot topic nationwide, and I’m very proud to say TACP [Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police] is out in front on this issue,” Cusson said.
On July 2, Governor Bill Lee announced a partnership with TACP, the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, the TBI, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, and the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to enhance policies, improve information sharing, and increase officer training. The groups involved specifically recommended that all agencies review, improve, and strengthen their use of force and duty to intervene policies.
Use of force
Cusson said Trenton’s use of force policy was “90% there anyway,” but his review did result in some additions and changes to the language. He utilized a use of force checklist, which was drafted based on best practices determined by reviewing standards set by accrediting agencies.
The checklist includes six sections that cover specific information: purpose, policy, definitions, procedure, reporting, and training, and terms that should be clearly defined and utilized in the policy: active resistance, chokehold, deadly force or lethal force, de-escalation, exigent circumstances, force, imminent threat, non-deadly force or less-lethal force, objectively reasonable, passive resistance, serious bodily injury, vascular neck restraint, and warning shots.
The checklist also includes Tennessee case law and 17 critical topics such as: the policy of the agency is to value and preserve human life; use of chokeholds is prohibited unless authorized by Tennessee laws governing use of deadly force; vascular neck restraint should be addressed as authorized or not and if authorized, must be trained and re-trained annually; reportable uses of force; rendering aid; and reporting and review of incident.
Trenton’s revised use of force policy is 16 pages and covers all of the information on the checklist. Cusson drew the council’s attention to Section F. 2. a., which states, “The intentional use of a chokehold or other method of restraint applied to the neck area of another person is prohibited, unless the use of deadly force is authorized. This includes, but is not limited to: (1) arm bar hold; (2) carotid artery hold; (3) vascular neck restraint; and (4) neck restraint or hold with a knee or other object.”
Duty to intervene
While the revised use of force policy includes a section on duty to intervene, TACP recommended departments create separate duty to intervene policies. Cusson said the new policy applies to officers and civilian employees of the police department, such as dispatchers. The policy states, “If an officer/employee of the Trenton Police Department reasonably perceives that another member is committing, or about to commit, an unlawful or improper act, including but not limited to, acts of brutality, abuses of process, abuses of authority, or any other criminal act or significant violation of department policy or procedure, they have the legal, ethical, moral, and departmental responsibility to intervene, stop, and report such act.
Cusson said that officers or employees that hear about a potential use of force situation, even if they don’t witness it, are mandated to report it by notifying a supervisor and submitting a written report to a supervisor as soon as is practical. Retaliation against any officer/employee who intervenes or cooperates in an internal investigation is prohibited.
The board unanimously voted to approve the revised use of force policy and the new duty to intervene policy, and aldermen praised Cusson for his dedication to the safety of citizens, officers, and employees.
“We appreciate your work,” Alderman Billie Wade said.