What kept the May 24 arrest of a Black man by Everett police officers where force was used — a day before the in-custody suffocation death of George Floyd as he was held by Minneapolis police — from becoming the flash point for nationwide protests and widespread calls for police reform and defunding of departments?
In both arrests there were similarities but also significant differences, as detailed Saturday by Herald reporter Caleb Hutton, following a review of video of the arrest, police reports and interviews with Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman and the suspect’s attorney.
Similar to the death of Floyd, Joseph Michael Hill, 39, who was a suspect in a report of domestic violence assault, complained three times that he could not breathe after an Everett officer put a knee against the man’s back. Both arrests were recorded on video; Floyd’s by a young woman on a smartphone; Hills’ on the body-worn cameras of two officers involved in the arrest.
The most significant difference: Floyd died after Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee against the back of the neck of the already handcuffed Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds; after Hill complied with orders to lie on the ground and place his hands behind his back, Sgt. Robert Edmonds held Hill to the ground with one knee between Hills’ shoulder blades for 14 seconds as he was handcuffed, then helped to a sitting position, then to his feet.
Hill’s attorney, Maxwell Mensinger, has called that 14 seconds an unnecessary and potentially deadly use of force. Templeman said Edmonds and other officers responded as they were trained.
That difference of opinion is expected, but certainly the outcome was far different in Everett than what occurred the next day in Minneapolis.
The Everett Police Department’s response to the incident is notable, too, because of the steps that followed Hill’s arrest.
After a review of the arrest, the department clarified its procedure manual, adding: “If the subject complains of breathing difficulty or appears to be in respiratory distress, officers will, at the earliest safe opportunity, move them to a position where it is easier to breathe, provide any necessary first aid, and request aid personnel for a medical evaluation.”
The addition, the chief said, simply emphasized what officers already were trained to do; now it’s down in black and white.
That willingness to promptly review and add “suspenders to the belt” in terms of policy should be kept in mind as the Everett City Council, through its public safety committee, reviews the police department’s policy, training, use of force and other issues at its meeting, 5 p.m., Wednesday. The meeting will be broadcast live and can be viewed at tinyurl.com/EverettWAtv.
Shaken by Floyd’s death and the protests that followed, Everett, as are other local and state governments nationwide, is making a close examination of law enforcement and criminal justice matters. And with national reforms bottled up in a divided Congress, accomplishment on reforms will be left to the local and state level.
There are two tracks here to consider during these discussions: policy and funding.
Locally and nationally, calls have been heard for a reduction of law enforcement budgets and a reallocation of funds to a range of social service programs, including youth outreach, housing assistance, mental health programs, drug treatment and economic development, among others, investments that are seen as effective in improving communities’ quality of life and crime prevention.
As budgets have tightened, especially during the Great Recession, funding for many of those programs have been cut and often not yet restored, with law enforcement left as not just first responder but the only available responder.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, even as the city faces lost revenue from the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the economy — on top of an existing structural budget deficit — is opposed to cutting back on the police department to reallocate funds elsewhere. Franklin and Templeman talked with The Herald Editorial Board last week.
The city’s program that pairs social workers with police patrols responding to those struggling with substance abuse, homelessness and mental illness, provides an example of the funding debate. The program, for which Everett was one of the pioneers, has successfully moved people into treatment, housing or other programs rather than into jail, then back out on the streets, resulting in better outcomes that also save money.
But a police presence on those responses, Franklin said, is necessary and should remain part of law enforcement responsibilities, and that’s at the recommendation of social workers and others providing that outreach.
“When case managers and social workers are the ones saying we need law enforcement there, I think the community needs to hear that,” she said.
Rather than take from law enforcement to bolster social programs, the mayor said, the move should be to find the funding elsewhere for those programs.
On reforms to policy and training, other law enforcement agencies in Snohomish County should — and already have in some cases — looked to the Everett Police Department.
Along with embedding social workers with police patrols, the department also has partnered with Snohomish County Human Service’s designated crisis responders, social workers who are on call 24 hours a day to assist officers, in particular calls involving mental health crises.
The department also has expanded its commitment to training. Its officers are required to complete 40 hours of training in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques, compared to the eight hours required by the state. As well, Templeman said, the department will be a regional training center on issues related to procedural justice, with four Everett officers providing that training.
Among other steps:
The Everett Police Department also is the only agency in the county that is reporting its incidents involving use of deadly force to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The department, since 2017, has routinely trained officers and all department staff regarding implicit bias and cultural competency to ensure all are performing their jobs in a fair and impartial manner.
Regarding the incidence of hate crimes in the city, Templeman said those reporters now are being reviewed monthly, rather than annually. And all reports involving incidents of prejudice, whether they involve a hate crime or not, are being investigated, he said.
The pandemic has curtained some of the community outreach the department has routinely performed, such as its soccer academy for youths, but plans to resume that when allowed.
The department also is preparing to extend its pilot program regarding body-worn cameras for officers into September as it waits to hear on a federal grant that could help make the program permanent and extend it beyond the 10 officers now using the cameras. Officers, Templeman said, have backed the use of the cameras and the department has already negotiated their continued use with the union. The program, Franklin noted, is a significant expense, but one that assures transparency and confidence in officers’ actions.
Templeman is holding his department up as an example and a resource for other law enforcement agencies in the county, and others are consulting with the Everett department and participating in training.
“I’m not saying that we’re the best; I’m not saying that we don’t make mistakes, because we do and we will,” the chief said. “And we’re not going to say we’re done. There’s more to be done.”