Discussions Continue on Task Force’s Public Safety Recommendations
The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners continued discussing the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Re-imagining Public Safety and the Hillsborough Police Department’s response at the board’s regular meeting Monday, March 14.
The first discussion took place at the board’s work session Feb. 28. See an earlier news release for details about that discussion.
Multiple discussions are expected to thoroughly discuss the recommendations, and the public will be provided an opportunity at a date still to be determined for input on the recommendations and draft actions. Public comment is allowed at the board’s regular meetings, which take place the second Monday of each month.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Re-imagining Public Safety was formed in November 2020 to determine whether the town should have a standing advisory board on public safety and what it should look like. The task force submitted draft recommendations in late October 2021, strongly recommending the creation of a standing advisory board and providing recommendations for that board’s work. The task force also submitted recommendations for the Police Department that covered: mental health crisis response, traffic stops, use of force, and department procedures.
March 14 discussion
At the March 14 discussion, the Board of Commissioners and Police Chief Duane Hampton were able to discuss the recommendations on use of force.
On the use of force response recommendations:
Recommendation 1 that an advisory board should hear community complaints and be able to promptly respond to community members — The police chief noted this recommendation and some of its sub-parts are connected to the task force’s overall recommendation of creating an advisory board. The Board of Commissioners did not discuss it at this meeting.
Recommendation A.1. on keeping footage involving a complaint for as long as needed for an investigation — The police chief explained the retention policy is to store body camera footage for 90 days for incidents that do not end in arrest, but any footage that is involved in a complaint or internal process is held until all internal reviews are completed.
Recommendation A. 2. on putting a policy in place to allow an advisory board to see body camera footage — Hampton said legislation allows disclosure, which means the person in the video can view it but cannot take a copy of it. Releasing the video can be done only with a court order. The town attorney agreed that the legislation does not allow the police to release the video.
Recommendation 2 stating that the current use of force policy is vague and an advisory board must suggest or create clearer use of force policies — The mayor suggested that the discussion of the role an advisory board would have with the use of force policy be saved for the overall discussion about the advisory board. The chief said the Hillsborough Police Department thinks it has a solid policy. He added that policy cannot be crafted to specifically address every scenario. Use of force is governed by policy, by case law and by training. He said the policy is very clear, but officers have to interpret policy, which is covered in training. The Police Department is constantly reviewing and evolving the policy. He noted the use of force policy was put in place in Hillsborough ahead of many other jurisdictions. There is a review every time an officer displays a weapon. Board members asked if the policy was unclear to police officers or to the task force members. Hampton said he does not understand in what ways the task force finds the policy vague, so there needs to be further discussion with the task force.
Hampton said this topic is challenging because the department uses a broad definition of use of force that involves anything beyond normal handcuffing of a compliant person. Tussling or carrying someone to the magistrate’s office is considered use of force. The Hillsborough Police Department has 20 to 30 use of force incidents a year by its broad definition. By the more common definition of use of force, there are approximately one or two a month. He said most involve an officer grabbing someone who is turning to run.
“This is an item to engage with more with the task force members when we have the opportunity and other members of the public to be sure people are getting the answers they are seeking,” Mayor Jenn Weaver said. “The difference between practices and policies can be really important because we want to have good policies in place that outlast [people].”
Recommendation 3 on developing procedures where officers do not need to be in full tactical gear to respond to non-criminal, or non-emergency calls — The chief said he disagrees with the portrayal of officers wearing full tactical gear. Officers wear an external body armor carrier. This was previously approved by the board as a healthier alternative to carrying equipment on belts, which can cause back injury. Hampton noted he has heard this recommendation from only one person. It may need further discussion with the task force, he said.
The police chief added that officers cannot dress for a call because they do not necessarily know which call could be dangerous. What they carry is determined by standard practice and the standard recommendations to have backup equipment. Hampton shared photos of officers wearing their external body armor carrier from the department’s Facebook page. He noted the load-bearing external carrier has pockets to hold the many tools that officers carry.
It was not clear to the board and police chief whether the concern about the number and type of weapons that are carried is widespread or limited. Some board members suggested that it would be good to understand whether it is necessary for officers to carry all the equipment at once or any items could be placed in vehicles for use if necessary. The mayor said this would be added to the list of items to discuss with the task force members.
The board expects to continue discussion of the task force recommendations and police department’s response at a meeting in April.
The March 14 discussion can be viewed in its entirety under Videos on the Mayor’s Task Force on Re-imagining Public Safety webpage. The police chief’s Use of Force presentation and discussion with the task force on May 13, 2021, can also be viewed on that webpage.
To view past presentations to the task force and other materials, see the task force’s webpage.