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TPD Chief Magnus: What happened to George Floyd in Minnesota is indefensible
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TPD Chief Magnus: What happened to George Floyd in Minnesota is indefensible

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This guest column by TPD Chief Chris Magnus was written and submitted Friday morning, before protests in Tucson.

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

What happened to George Floyd in Minnesota is indefensible. Every good police officer — every decent human being — is outraged by it. Police officers are sworn to protect life, including the lives of those we arrest.

Progressive police departments work hard to prevent tragedies like this from happening. It’s done by taking a comprehensive approach that includes thoughtfully developed policies, a diverse workforce, innovative training, meaningful supervision, community oversight, and a commitment to both accountability and transparency.

The Tucson Police Department has been ahead of the curve in working to bring each of these elements to bear on issues of race, use of force, and all aspects of our service to the public.

It starts with our policy, which makes clear that any use of force must be lawful, objectively reasonable, proportionate to the threat, and not the result of officer provocation.

If the use of force does not meet these requirements, other officers have an absolute duty to intervene.

Our policy specifies that force be based on the nature of the crime, a subject’s physical size and actions, feasibility of alternative responses and availability of additional officers. It prohibits the use of vascular neck restraints and chokeholds.

Use of force is recorded on officers’ body cameras and evaluated not only by supervisors, but also by the department’s Force Review Board (FRB), which includes members of the community.

Misuse of force, including the failure of officers to intervene in stopping excessive force, can result in serious discipline, even termination. If a criminal act was potentially committed, a criminal investigation follows, and the case is referred to the Pima County Attorney’s Office.

Our commitment to diversity means we work hard to recruit officers from different backgrounds and life experiences, including officers from different races and ethnicities, women, and members of the LGBT community. Our goal is to have a department composed of highly qualified individuals who reflect the diverse community we serve.

Training never stops for Tucson police officers. We train in the academy, in the field, and throughout officers’ careers — with more than just lectures.

Officers participate in scenarios based on real life with the help of community members as role players. This helps them sharpen their skills, communicate effectively, and develop the judgment and reflexes necessary to manage a crisis. Our officers are regularly trained in de-escalation: lowering the temperature of interactions to lessen the intensity of confrontations.

They’re trained in cultural awareness and implicit bias: biases we all have at an unconscious level. They receive training on constitutional law, with a special focus on protecting civil rights. They’re also trained in defensive tactics that provide them with a wide range of options to deal with varying levels of resistance.

In our department, everyone is accountable for their decisions and actions, including me. Supervision and accountability come through the department’s chain of command. Lieutenants and sergeants play a critical role in making sure policies are followed at the line level — and holding officers accountable when they aren’t.

Accountability also comes through our Office of Professional Standards (OPS), which investigates complaints and determines whether policy violations have occurred. Investigations can be further reviewed by the Independent Police Auditor and the Community Police Advisory Review Board (appointed by the City Council). All OPS investigations and findings are public records.

We seek out community oversight — inviting diverse members of the community to participate on our Force Review Board, Critical Incident Review Board (CIRB), and Community Advisory Council.

The FRB and CIRB not only review use-of-force incidents, including officer-involved shootings, but also other incidents of high community concern. Their reviews include an assessment of department policies, training and supervision. Findings are always available to the public.

The tragic, senseless death of Mr. Floyd makes it that much harder for our dedicated men and women to fulfill their mission of public service. We have worked intentionally to build quality relationships with our residents based on communication, engagement, and accountability.

We have accomplished much but recognize there is still work to be done. I have faith in our department, the organizational culture we have fostered, and you.

Chris Magnus is chief of the Tucson Police Department.

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