Protect, serve the approach locally

Loudon Police Officer Kenny Ridings gets out of his patrol car outside Loudon Police Department.

Local law enforcement doesn’t believe calls nationwide for the defunding of police departments is wise.

The outcry began followed the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., which sparked protests across the country to end police brutality.

Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis said he opposes police brutality and agreed peaceful protests are within the rights of residents. He pointed to a June protest when LCSO assisted Lenoir City Police Department at the Lenoir City Municipal Building.

“Everybody that attended the rally were very cordial, very nice, got their point across they were trying to say, very peaceful and both the attendees at the rally and the law enforcement presence had no problems whatsoever either way,” Davis said. “So I commend them for having a peaceful rally and it’s obviously their right and encourage it as long as it’s in a peaceful manner.”

Davis said reducing the level of funding for police would hurt the public and impact the level of training.

“I’ve said before there are two sides of law enforcement. There’s protect and serve,” he said. “So obviously you have the chaos that we feel would happen if there’s no police presence. There’s no, as they say, the blue line between chaos and calm. The idea of protecting property and persons is high priority for us. Then you have the issue of the service, where we answered 24,000 calls last year, so a lot of those calls were for service of people needing or wanting help or assistance. So if you take away the departments, or at least scale back the departments, the only people that would be suffering are the community, whole-heartedly believe that.”

Loudon Police James “Bear” Webb agreed.

“They realize the importance of law enforcement in the community,” Webb said. “... As a nationwide trend, talk about defunding the police, a lot of the responses have been to look at the policies and procedures. I’ve been a police officer for 38 years and there has never been any policy or a practice or training to use a choke hold. When one police officer out of millions that are serving this country makes a mistake, and that’s what it was, he made a mistake, he was wrong, and as a criminal justice system we’re all a part of, he’s going to be punished and he’s going to face justice and justice is going to be served.”

Lenoir City Police Chief Don White said he believes law enforcement has gotten “much better” since the late 1980s.

“We’ve got policy manuals now,” White said. “We are accredited, we’ve been accredited now for over two years and that accreditation ensures that we follow our policy and practices. ... I’m ensuring that my people are doing what they’re supposed to do and my supervisors are making sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Community support has been positive, Davis said.

“We’ve got nothing but support from our community, especially on the county level,” he said. “People bringing things by, notes, posts on our Facebook, every way people thanking us for what we do, and that is consistently the way it’s always been around here. I feel that’s contributed to, one, the people we have here, and also the job the sheriff’s office does. We’re a department made of human beings. We try to screen our employees the best we can, we train our employees the best we can, we monitor our employees the best we can. When they make mistakes we hold them accountable. That’s just the way to do it. We teach them right and train them right.”

Training an emphasis

Officers are required to take at least 40 hours of annual training, but local agencies go beyond that standard.

White said Lenoir City allows police officers to take training outside their specific expertise.

Loudon officers take at least 60 hours, Webb said. That includes training on firearms, “less-than-lethal weapons” and driving.

“For example, most agencies go to the firing range one time a year and put in eight hours,” Webb said. “Well, we got an additional exercise. We do that minimum standard in the spring and in the fall we go back to the range and do something a little bit different. We do an action-versus-reaction type of pistol range course where our guys are going through, some people call it a stress course, but they’re having to make decisions. In other words, they’re faced with targets that pop up, it could be somebody that’s got a hostage, or it could just be simply a good guy that has no gun at all.”

Officers spend “a lot of time” with hands-on practical training with use of force.

Davis said officers go by a “force continuum.”

“The first level of force continuum is officer presence,” he said. “You come up in a police car, got their uniform on, their badge, everything. That gives a presence, just like security at events. There’s a presence people should act right because law enforcement is there. If you’re dealing with someone, as their threat level goes up, your force continuum goes up. So you basically go one step above what the threat level is. If someone is just mouthy and you try to de-escalate the situation. If it becomes physical, you go one hand above what their resistance is. So a lot of that is covered in our field training officers where we take our new officers when they’re coming in. They go through a several-week period where they’re with a field training officer, a more established, a more seasoned veteran officer that basically trains them.”

All officers involved in a call fill out a “force report,” which is given to immediate supervisors, administration and field training officers, Davis said.

White said officers are trained to be “one step ahead of the individual” and arrest the person without harm.

“We have to do our job and we have to make the arrest, handcuff the individual and transport them to the jail, then let the judicial system do its job,” White said. “But getting that individual that doesn’t want to go jail in the back of a police car can sometimes be very challenging. If that individual has a weapon of any level, then obviously our next defense for us and anybody else that’s in the area would be for us to pull our weapon and then we would have to choose if deadly force was warranted, and then we would go from there. The event that occurred in Minneapolis where the officer was on top of the suspect, I mean I don’t know the case, I know what I saw which looked horrific. I don’t think anybody can disagree with that. That was just a complete disregard for his duty as a police officer. He disregarded every rule and standard that we have. Our men and women, they have to make some split-second decisions and sometimes things don’t go necessarily the way that you want them to go.”

Davis said an officer needs to be able to de-escalate from a possible life-threatening situation.

“Unless you’re in that situation where you’re faced with lethal force, and we do, it happens more often than people think,” Davis said. “You deal with someone and they’re armed, you’re straight to lethal force and you’re at that threshold of I might have to protect myself or other people and unfortunately that means maybe take somebody’s life. Then they drop the gun and then you have to de-escalate yourself back down to make sure you handle it properly. As soon as that goes down or as soon as you have a physical altercation with someone whether it’s a struggle or your using defensive tactics using pressure points or arm bars or whatever, as soon as those cuffs go on and they’re secure and the threat is over, you’re done. You don’t do cheap shots, you don’t do punches. That’s just not allowed. It’s not how we do business.”

He also hopes deputies will soon have more training on mental health.

Davis said a choke hold has never been instructed since he’s been with law enforcement since 1994.

White and Webb agree.

The closest could be a side neck restraint, which he likened to a headlock. Even that is dangerous, Davis said.

“I think because it’s too easy if you’re in a physical altercation, I mean it’s moving fast and things could change and if you lock down on something that’s supposed to be temporary and you have to hold someone down for awhile, it could have the result just like Minneapolis did,” Davis said. “... It’s just not a smart move because you can do more damage than needed.”