Police Chief Answers Questions from Community; Board Outlines Next Steps
In a presentation to the town board last week, Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton addressed questions the Police Department has been receiving about its practices and policies.
Hillsborough commissioners also adopted a resolution at the virtual June 8 meeting denouncing the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while in police custody and outlining next steps for the Town of Hillsborough and its police department, including:
- Proposing opportunities for the community to share experiences to better understand the role of race in local law enforcement.
- Presenting options for implementing a community policing review board.
- Proposing ways to engage the board and community in reviewing the town’s policies, procedures and opportunities for eliminating systemic racism.
- Prioritizing involvement from residents and business owners of color in a review of the town’s comprehensive plans.
The board also directed staff to try to add the following to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal, with the first two identified by the police chief as immediate needs for the Police Department. A second work session and vote on the budget’s adoption is scheduled for June 29.
- Upgrade of a part-time police training position to a full-time supervisor position — Estimated $24,074.
- Continue funding GPS monitoring devices as accountability tools in patrol vehicles — Estimated $10,000.
- Police property room storage system — Estimated $15,000.
- Diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, noted in the board’s resolution — Estimated $10,000.
Below is information from Hampton’s virtual presentation. The full presentation and post-discussion can be viewed in a video excerpt of the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners’ June 8 meeting.
- A letter to the community from the police chief issued June 1.
- A joint video statement from law enforcement leaders in Orange County.
Many recent questions from the community focus on the Police Department’s policies.
“I want to frame this conversation by stressing to everybody that policy is very, very important, but it is just a piece of the picture,” Hampton said, noting the Police Department views policy, training and agency culture as critical for success. “Having one of those legs is going to create a stool that doesn’t stand.”
Many of the agencies experiencing problems have practices contrary to their policies, the chief said. In Hillsborough, many of the recommendations made by the community and the NAACP are in two or more of the department’s policies, training and culture, Hampton said. These include:
- Ban choke and strangle holds.
- Require de-escalation.
- Provide warning before shooting.
- Exhaust all alternatives before shooting.
- Follow a duty to intervene.
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles.
- Implement use of force continuum, in which officers continually assess and escalate or de-escalate force based on circumstances.
- Conduct comprehensive reporting.
Two NAACP recommendations ― citizen review boards and contracts with the community ― will be part of the continued discussion on policing. Regarding comprehensive reporting, Hampton said displaying a weapon triggers a review in Hillsborough.
Policy for the department has been developed using:
- Statutory requirements and case law.
- Best practices of peers and other agencies across the country and internationally.
- Staff and community involvement.
- Continual evaluation and updates.
Hillsborough police officers introduce themselves during traffic stops. The department policy requires officers to provide names in other situations when requested. The department does not issue badge numbers because it’s a small department.
“The reality is we can’t think of everything that needs to be in a policy,” Hampton said. “A lot of times, unfortunately, policies are developed because something happens and that causes us to realize there’s a hole.”
Annual mandatory training of officers is about 30 hours per officer. Last year, Hillsborough officers collectively trained an additional 1,262 hours. The department has 27 full-time sworn officers and one part-time training officer. Training received includes:
- Use of force, de-escalation and scenario-based.
- Fair, impartial and anti-bias.
- Legal updates and liability.
- Communication, verbal judo and crisis intervention.
“Hopefully folks who know our department realize that our culture is a little bit different. It starts for us with the hiring process,” Hampton said.
That process to identify the best candidates for Hillsborough includes:
- Extensive background and reference checks.
- Multi-level interviews that include informal sessions, like ride-alongs with a patrol officer, and structured sessions with the chief and others.
- Psychological screening.
“The ultimate success totally is going to depend on getting the right people here, people who understand our way of doing business, understand our culture, who want to do what we do,” Hampton said, adding the agency’s core values, code of ethics and philosophy of policing at its best are emphasized. “We want to show all the good things that policing can do, and we push that internally.”
To build culture, the department also:
- Pushes employee innovation and problem solving.
- Has a system of accountability and standards for behavior.
- Celebrates positive work.
- Emphasizes community engagement, with 98 instances in 2020 ― many prior to COVID-19 restrictions.
Since 2016, 23 people have gone through the department’s hiring process, with 18 hired and 13 retained:
- 15 were men, with 5 black candidates.
- 8 were women, with 3 black and 1 Hispanic candidates.
- 4 did not complete training.
- 1 did not complete the background check.
- 5 resigned, with 3 leaving law enforcement.
The 13 who remain are:
- 8 men (7 white, 1 black).
- 5 women (3 white, 1 Hispanic, 1 black).
Several other diverse candidates were pursued, the police chief said, noting significant time is spent on hiring ― three to four months for the process and then another five to six months if basic law enforcement training is needed.
“Hiring is a challenge. It’s a small agency. It’s hard to retain people, and our standards are high,” Hampton said. “We try to get the right people in the door, and we hold them to a standard.”
The department’s recruiting page does not list every disqualifier, but they are looked for in background checks. Being a member of a white supremacist group would absolutely disqualify someone as a candidate, the chief said.
“Pretty much any flavor of discriminatory behavior is not something that we would want,” he said.
The department’s process for internal accountability includes:
- Assessments of all complaints
- Internal reviews of all uses of force, pursuits or refusals to stop, accidents officers are involved in, and performance issues.
- Regular reviews of officers’ traffic stop statistics, body worn camera activations and use, driver’s license status, and driving behaviors.
- Review of an officer when three to four issues occur within a year.
The department also can request an external review by the State Bureau of Investigation of critical incidents or criminal behavior that may involve an officer.
A progressive discipline system is used that moves from coaching, counseling and warning to suspension and demotion or firing based on an issue’s nature and seriousness. Movement through the process is documented, and emphasis is placed on fixing minor problems with training and monitoring. Supervisors look for whether a problem is a pattern of behavior or an isolated incident.
Body worn cameras
Cameras were implemented in 2014 primarily to document officers’ actions and interactions with the community. They are not intended for evidence because of retention issues. The department has more than 7,000 videos in storage now, using over 4,000 gigabytes of space and leaving about 330 available.
Videos showing use of force, felony arrests, pursuits, or evidentiary value require manual removal from storage. Other videos are retained at least:
- 30 days for error activations and training videos.
- 90 days for videos on calls for service, traffic stops and field contact.
- 3 years for videos on misdemeanor or DWI arrests.
Officers are expected to turn on cameras when they:
- Begin to respond to a call.
- Self-initiate activity that likely will result in enforcement.
- Are in a situation that begins to escalate or in which dissatisfaction with police is expressed.
- Expect to perform a consensual search of a person, building, vehicle or other property.
- Serve and execute a search warrant or perform a warrantless search of buildings, vehicles or other property.
- Serve commitment papers.
- Provide short distance transportation.
Officers may turn off cameras when:
- In the investigative phase of a call for service and gathering information.
- The period for enforcement action, traffic stop or citizen contact has ended.
- In periods of excessive waiting or while processing a cooperative subject in custody.
- Inside private property at the person in control’s request, if the situation is non-adversarial and multiple officers are present.
A camera also may be turned off in a non-adversarial situation to prevent escalation or to gain cooperation. The officer’s supervisor must be notified immediately at the event’s end.
Camera footage is reviewed as part of any internal accountability review and in response to specific incidents. Recently, footage was reviewed to ensure use of personal protective equipment due to the pandemic. Supervisors also perform monthly random audits.
Annual audits are conducted to ensure cameras are activated as expected. Six to eight days of footage from a patrol squad is reviewed in the annual audit, which takes several weeks to complete. The department plans to audit one squad each quarter this year. Activation compliance was 95% last year, up from 71 to 90% in 2018. Most nonactivations then were due to not turning cameras on prior to arriving at a call. Officers now must radio they are “live” when responding to a call, which serves as a memory aid. Most nonactivations in 2019 were when officers never left the vehicle when providing escort services for businesses.
The chief said more training is an immediate need for the department, as well as the upgrade of the part-time training position, which will be vacated at the end of June, and usage of GPS devices to assess patrol patterns, check seatbelt compliance and monitor for harsh driving.
Future needs are:
- Better software to analyze data from the records system.
- Better system or software to manage and track internal accountability and discipline.
- Better tools, process or resources for screening and hiring applicants.