The May 25 killing of George Floyd sparked protests around the globe and in Marion, demanding justice for Floyd and many other Black individuals who have died at the hands of the police.
Since then, more than 800 community members responded to a Community Policing Survey created by activist Torri Williams outlining ways in which policing in Grant County could prevent incidents similar to the death of George Floyd from happening in the future.
Marion Police Department (MPD) Chief Angela Haley said although the police department can improve, the issue is not one-sided.
“This is a community issue. There are a lot of people that need to be educated, and there are a lot of things that need to be addressed, but it is not and should not be solely aimed at police reform,” she said. “I think law enforcement can improve, but I don’t think we are the biggest problem. This is a much bigger conversation than police reform.”
Six hundred and twenty-one community members responded that they believe it is “very important” for MPD and the Grant County Sheriff’s Department (GCSD) to implement implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training.
Jonesboro Police Chief Joel Thomas said his officers had done online training. Still, he would like to have his officers complete in-person implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training when COVID-19 restrictions permit.
While some have called to “defund the police,” according to Thomas, the opposite is needed.
“I don’t know any police agency that has enough money,” Thomas said. “Maybe we could find ways to give them more money to go towards things like racial and cultural sensitivity training, or maybe get some more de-escalation training in there. I’m always an advocate for training. I don’t think there can ever be enough training.”
MPD does not currently require that officers complete implicit bias training and cultural sensitivity training, but Haley said the department is looking into it.
“Quite honestly, I’ve taken an implicit bias class,” she said. “I don’t think it should be mandated for police alone. I think everybody should have to take it.”
Because MPD is obligated to respond to every complaint of suspicious behavior, Haley said the training would be beneficial for community members who might call in a complaint.
Additionally, Haley said it would be helpful for callers to remain on the line and answer any questions the dispatcher may ask.
“The dispatcher is asking questions to get information that officers need to appropriately respond,” she said. “A lot of people get upset when dispatchers ask questions. They don’t give the information, or they half give the information. We need people to answer the questions. That, quite honestly, could help with many of the things that happen.”
MPD is in the process of reviewing its use of force policy, Haley said.
“If we decide to make changes, we will take it before the board of works,” she said. “It’s something we occasionally do, but it’s something that I felt like we needed to do.”
Haley agreed with the majority of survey respondents that officer salaries should be competitive to attract and retain the best recruits.
“I would love for that to happen. We’ve lost some really good officers that quite honestly could offer better pay,” she said.
But it’s not all about pay, Haley said.
“The people that work at the police department, the people that do these types of jobs, they’re not just doing it for money,” she said. “They want to fix and help with problems. They want to feel like they are making a difference, and they need to feel like they are being appreciated.”
More than 70 percent of the responses said officers needed to be incentivized to live and be engaged in the community they serve.
Haley agreed and added, “If you want to keep and retain great police officers, then they need to feel the support of the community. When we reach out a hand, someone has to reach back. It can’t all be one-sided.”
While MPD already mandates that officers exhaust all reasonably available alternatives before using lethal force, Haley said many situations are not as simple as they may appear.
“These situations happen very quickly,” she said. “When things are caught on video, you guys have the luxury of slowing it down and playing it frame by frame by frame, but it happens in seconds.”
When a police officer uses inappropriate levels of force, Haley said fellow officers on-scene are required to intervene.
“We already encourage that,” she said. “Police officers are human beings. There isn’t a perfect one among us. We all have things that get under our skin. We all can have an emotional response to things.”
Haley told a story of a time she was upset by something that had happened, and an officer of a lower rank stepped in and told her that he would take care of the situation.
“He had me step back, and he took the lead on it,” she said. “I’ve seen that happen time and time again, and we encourage that, and we have for years.”
MPD has a policy regarding the prohibition of shooting at moving vehicles, but Haley said there were times when MPD had shot into moving vehicles that were being used as a weapon.
According to Haley, police officers often “fill the gaps” and complete tasks that are not policing duties.
“Mental health would be a big one. We are tasked regularly with dealing with mental health issues,” she said.
MPD is often asked to pick up people on emergency detention orders, sometimes by a mental health facility, Haley said.
“They are getting paid to take care of these patients, why are we getting police officers involved in that? Why don’t they have the staff available to deal with those problems?” she said. “That’s just one example.”
In addition to showing appreciation for police officers and completing implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training, Haley said the community could help by cooperating with police during investigations.
“We get very little help where that’s concerned,” she said. “Victims are getting no justice. This has been going on for years. This isn’t a new thing.”
A lack of respect from the younger generation and a lack of communication between neighbors create unnecessary issues, Haley said.
“We have a responsibility to earn (respect), but 20 years ago, people did not talk the way they talk to adults today,” she said. “If we could get neighbors to talk about things, that would solve a lot of problems. Minor neighborhood problems could be solved by just talking with parents and neighbors.”
Thomas said he believes there is some substance behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and that individuals should keep an open mind and listen to what the organization says.
“I think the media is focusing more on some of these (protests) that are turning violent and destructive rather than the actual protesting that stands for the movement,” he said. “I think a lot of people are taking advantage of the situation, and it’s distracting from the actual movement itself. I don’t believe (the looting) is part of the core of the BLM movement.”
Former MPD Assistant Police Chief Alex Huskey said he also believes the community and the police department need to work together to make necessary changes.
“We as a community, not just the police community or Black community, all together must find a way to come together and find reasonable solutions to these problems, so we don’t have more incidents of hate and violence,” he said. “We have to deal with the fact that hate still exists, and we have to talk about it openly and work to resolve the issues instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist.”
“(Police officers) are public servants. At the end of the day, we are to be the shepherds of our community,” Thomas said. “We’re to protect our community, so I feel we need to listen to every human being in our community, and if they truly believe there’s something that is unjust or unfair, we need to listen to that and work towards ways to be better shepherds of our community.”
Grant County Sheriff Reggie Nevels declined to comment for this story.