The Farmington Police Department addressed issues of race, diversity and use of force in a community discussion held Thursday night on Facebook Live.
The event was centered on police reform. However, no new objectives or proposals were presented; rather, four police department representatives – Police Chief Steve Hebbe, Deputy Police Chief Taft Tracy, Capt. Kyle Dowdy and Capt. Baric Crum – highlighted the ways the department has already made strides.
In an event where questions were asked both by livestream audience members and media members, Hebbe stressed the FPD is “everybody’s police department” and the department works to ensure everyone in the community feels safe.
The state requires a certain amount of training related to multicultural issues, but FPD chooses to spend more time training in issues related to ethics, diversity and race, according to officers.
In terms of diversity within the department, Hebbe was adamant that even though the department has improved its diversity under his leadership, work remains to be done.
The officers also spoke about ways they have attempted to better connect with different parts of the Farmington community. Dowdy said the department has a liaison for members of the LGBTQ+ community because the department had noticed that segment of the community has been underreporting crimes. The department wanted to ensure residents the LGBTQ+ community is not being ignored, and since implementing a liaison, it has seen an uptick in communication.
Officers also spoke about the department’s emphasis on de-escalation. The department trains officers to use force only when it is absolutely required and trains officers to attempt to de-escalate situations to avoid using force.
Dowdy said the department uses a constitutional-based training, which informs officers of citizens’ rights as well as instructs officers to ask themselves, “What’s the governmental interest in an officer responding to this scene?” The hope is such training reduces the need for the use of force.
Hebbe said the training represents a “higher level of thinking” than police departments have done in the past. He said it’s different, and needed, that officers are now thinking whether the community wants officers to use force in certain situations.
Dowdy said the department had implemented all the policies highlighted in “8 Can’t Wait” before the high-profile events featuring police violence this summer. “8 Can’t Wait” is a campaign asking police departments to implement eight policies that would reduce police violence.
Dowdy detailed the crisis-intervention training that officers do to become more comfortable handling situations involving residents with mental illnesses. Dowdy said officers are usually trained to respond to an event quickly, but in situations involving mentally ill residents, an understanding of the “long-term approach” is needed. The critical incident training helps officers understand the bigger picture. He also said officers “realize we are not the end-all be-all when it comes to mental health.”
However, Crum said it is unrealistic, as some in the public have requested, that mental health calls are handled by social workers. Crum spoke about the potentially dangerous and uncomfortable situations that officers are frequently placed in, and social workers do not have the training to handle those situations.
Throughout the discussion, officers stressed the importance of community policing. Hebbe said the department holds discussions like the one held Thursday to ensure community members feel listened to and protected.