Chief’s Message 6/9/20: FAQ on Use of Force

As we have continued to react and respond to the ghastly incident that resulted in the death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week, I have received many inquiries from many concerned citizens of whom we are proud to serve.  Since I have received so many inquiries, I thought it would be best to address the questions that I have received so that all of our community can learn and be informed about the Gloucester Township Police Department.  Here is a list of “frequently asked questions” that my staff and I have received:

 

Q:  Are the police officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department being trained to de-escalate altercations by using peaceful conflict resolution strategies?

 
A:  All Gloucester Township Police Officers have been training in de-escalation techniques.  Officers participate in mandatory Use of Force training twice per year which incorporates de-escalation tactics.  Each officer shall be guided by the principle that the degree of force employed in any situation should be only that which is reasonably necessary. The use of force should never be considered routine. It is the policy of the State of New Jersey, and this department, that officers will use only that force that is objectively reasonable and necessary. Additionally, we support and routinely have officers trained in the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program.  This program is an innovative international model of police based crisis intervention combined with community health care and advocacy partnerships where the officers receive intensive training to respond to citizens experiencing a behavioral crisis.
 

Q:  Are the police officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department forbidden from using carotid restraints (chokeholds, strangleholds, etc.)?

 
A:  Officers are not permitted to perform chokeholds, carotid artery neck restraints, or similar tactics on any individual, except in the very limited situations when deadly force is necessary to address an imminent threat to life.  Carotid restraints, chokeholds and strangleholds are not taught or demonstrated in any GTPD training, or any New Jersey Police Academy.  Hog tying methods are also not allowed.  Every officer is trained to be aware of and avoid positional asphyxia, and to immediately recognize the signs and to avoid it.  
 

Q:  Are hog-tying methods authorized tactics to be used by Gloucester Township Police Officers?

 
A:  Hog tying methods are also not allowed.  Every officer is trained to be aware of and avoid positional asphyxia, and to immediately recognize the signs and to avoid it.
 

Q:  Are officers forbidden from transporting civilians in uncomfortable positions, such as face down in a vehicle?

 
A:  Officers are not authorized to transport anyone face down.  All persons riding in motorized vehicles owned or operated by the Gloucester Township Police Department shall wear seatbelts.  It shall be the officer’s responsibility to ensure that all persons riding in a vehicle owned or operated by the Gloucester Township Police Department, are wearing their seatbelts.  If an officer or employee wishes to transport a person or prisoner without a seatbelt fastened (i.e. medical condition, unruly or dangerous prisoner), the officer must first obtain permission to transport the non-seat belted person from a police supervisor.
 

Q:  Are the police officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department required to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force? Will officers be reprimanded if they fail to intervene?

 
A:  Yes, our policy on use of force reinforces the responsibility of officers to take those steps possible to prevent or stop the illegal or inappropriate use of force by other officers. Every law enforcement officer is expected and required to take appropriate action in any situation where that officer is clearly convinced that another officer is using force in violation of state law or this general order. Officers have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to report all situations in which force is used illegally by anyone. This policy sends a clear message to officers that they share an obligation beyond the requirements of law. Officers are encouraged to do whatever they can to interrupt the flow of events before a fellow officer does something illegal and before any official action is necessary. Officers can serve each other and the public by simply saying or doing the right thing to prevent a fellow officer from resorting to force illegally or inappropriately.   Officers will be face discipline if they fail to intervene.
 

Q:  Are the officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department required to exhaust every other possible option before using excessive force?

 
A:  Gloucester Township Police Officers are never authorized to use excessive force.
 

Q:  Are the officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department required to report each time they threaten to or use force on civilians?

 
The Gloucester Township Police Use of Force policy mirrors the direction of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Directive on Use of Force.  Our policy states:  In all instances when physical force, mechanical force, enhanced mechanical, or deadly force is used, each member or employee who has employed such force shall complete and submit use of force reports.  In addition, if an officer employs constructive force by pointing a firearm at a person, this must also be reported.
 

Q:  Are the officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department thoroughly vetted to ensure that they do not have a history with abuse, racism, xenophobia, homophobia/transphobia, or discrimination?

 
A:  Yes, all applicants and new hires pass a significant background check, a series of interviews, and a psychological exam.  
 

Q: Are the officers in the Gloucester Township Police Department trained to perform and seek necessary medical action after using force?

 
A: Yes, our use of force policy states:  If the use of force results in an injury to any party, prompt medical attention shall be offered and/or provided as soon as it is safe for officers to do so.  The officers are also trained to do this in our use of force training.
 

Q: Is there an early intervention system enforced to correct officers who use excessive force?

 
A: Yes we have a Professional Standards / Early Warning System.   This system is monitored by the Gloucester Township Police Department Professional Standards Unit who report directly to the Chief of Police, with oversite by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office.
 

Q: How many complaints does an officer have to receive before they are reprimanded?

 
A:  It varies depending on the offense committed by an officer.  Major offenses (insubordination, excessive force, dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer, etc.) may be punishable by suspension up to termination.  Minor offenses (ex. Lateness, uniform issue, forgetting equipment, etc.), a system of progressive discipline and re-training may be used.  Any and all accusations of possible criminal conduct including excessive force complaints are investigated by the Camden County Prosecutors Office.  You can also see information about our Professional Standards Process and annual Internal Affairs statistics by visiting:  https://gtpolice.com/operations-divsion/professional-standards-bureau/  
Officers are also regularly offered police chaplain services, counseling of employee assistance programs, and participation in officer resiliency programs.
 

 

Q:  What happens if someone dies while in the custody of police?

 
A:  All in custody deaths are investigated by the Camden County Prosecutors Office and the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.  The Gloucester Township Police Department would not participate in the investigation.


Our relations and service to ALL of our community members is the driving motivation behind everything that we do at the Gloucester Township Police Department.   Every full time police officer from the Chief of Police to the newest Recruit Officer must attend a program called “Policing in a More Perfect Union” which is held at the US Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA.    This program is described from their website as follows:  “The program is designed to give police officer recruits a historical understanding of the constitutional rights and restrictions that are defined in the Bill of Rights. Policing in a More Perfect Union also examines the history of policing in a democratic society, and provides a forum for new officers to discuss the importance of their role in protecting the rights of all citizens.”
 
Also, all Police Supervisors attended a program last year at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in New York titled “Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust”.  This program enables law enforcement officers to examine the role their profession played in the Holocaust and challenges them to reflect upon their professional and personal responsibilities in a democracy today.  These are just two of the many initiatives that we have undertaken to emphasize our role as servant leaders to all members of the community.
 
We will do whatever it takes to ensure that we eliminate the scourge of racism from our community.  We will re-examine everything we do to make ourselves better, so we can be servant leaders who can heal the divisions in our community.  The Gloucester Township Police Department are active participants in the New Jersey Attorney Generals “Excellence in Policing Initiative”, for more information on this program go to https://www.nj.gov/oag/excellence/.
 
I want to invite our community members to attend our Citizens Police Academy, go to https://gtpolice.com/programs/community-relations/citizen-police-academy/ , and to be sure to sign up for our Community Notification System at https://gtpolice.com/ so you can learn more about the Gloucester Township Police Department.

 

For more information about the many community programs of the Gloucester Township Police Department, go to https://gtpolice.com/programs/

 

To find out more about how you make a difference, please contact the Gloucester Township Police Community Relations Bureau at communityrelations@gtpolice.com for more information.
 

David J. Harkins
Chief of Police

Posted in Chief's Message

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