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Change through dialogue – PD responds to ‘list of demands’ from group

Some ongoing meetings between local agencies and the Change group, which is demanding more transparency in things like policing and hiring practices, has provoked a lot of open conversations. And due to those conversations, some agencies — like the city of Danville — are taking a look at their internal policies, while others like the police department are sharing more about them, hopefully creating a clearer understanding of how they operate.

United for Change-Danville has been presenting its “list of demands” since July, aiming to address inequality by demanding specific initiatives be developed and followed by these agencies. Since meeting with local law enforcement, the group has changed its list somewhat, after discovering certain trainings and procedures were already being implemented, and adding other focal points to it, like the need to increase police pay.

 

How complaints are handled 

 

Danville Police Chief Tony Gray and Asst. Chief Glenn Doan met with Change members, which they say went well.

“Everyone wants the same things, to make sure everyone’s being treated fairly and equally,” Doan said.
But, if there’s an allegation circulating on social media, they may not even know about it.

“People can say anything on social media …” Doan said. “There’s things that float around, but we want to be transparent. Some things that do assist us are our body-worn cameras and videos. If we do get a complaint, it’s easy to fact-check those.”

He said when he tells the community that the PD has an open-door policy, “that truly means open door. If there’s a problem, come in and let’s sit down and talk about it. We’ll investigate it — that’s the only way to instill that trust with the community.”

Cheryl Burton with Change, who is running as a write-in candidate for city commission and has been making the rounds to discuss the list, said law enforcement agencies need better processes for public complaints. She feels many complaints get swept under the rug and are not correctly dealt with, which accumulate and add up to parts of the community’s distrust with police.

She said in her meeting with them, “Tony Gray said when he gets a complaint, someone usually just calls him and that’s it. There’s no documentation or paper trail to follow …”

Doan said “there are some inaccuracies” with that statement, and Chief Gray clarified that’s not entirely the case, even with “informal” complaints.

Doan said there is state law and certain procedures set forth, not only when it comes to police complaints but also with officer discipline, that the agency must follow.

He said, “Now, there are times there would be a complaint on an officer that is not ‘formal’ in nature, and the allegation is so minor …” that there may be no documentation because there was no disciplinary action. He used the scenario of if a citizen called him about an officer speeding on the bypass.

“We would check dash cameras to find out the officer was traveling 70 in a 55, for example. I would look to see if there was justification for doing so, and as long as the officer doesn’t have a history of violating such policies, I’d speak to them about it.” In a case like this, there would not be any paper trail, he said.

But, if the complaint alleges misconduct, which would result in a counseling session or a written warning without a formal citizen complaint, there would be documentation, “and we use progressive discipline, so even minor policy violations can accumulate to more severe discipline.”

Doan said, “I think people get hung-up on the fact that if there is no ‘formal complaint’ filed by a citizen, then there will be no documentation or investigation conducted, and that is incorrect.”

But Burton would still like to see a process for “all formal and informal complaints and personnel files be reviewed by an independent company approved by the ‘citizen’s review board,’” as stated on the list.

As far as the creation of a citizen’s review board, Doan said the PD has a system of checks and balances already in place for reviews of complaints, discipline and use of force.

“The police department is not a stand-alone entity — we are all part of the city government, and there is oversight at all levels.” He said the PD works under a chain of command.

“We have sergeants and captains who supervise the patrol division …” and if an issue or complaint arises, “then it comes up from the chain of command. Myself and the chief are selected and put in our positions to ensure transparency …” and also work with human resources and the city manager, who may be involved in complaints and disciplinary actions.

“Citizens also have an elected board of commissioners in place, that have to review any disciplinary action taken with an officer. If a citizen did not feel comfortable with a situation involving the PD and did not want to bring their concern directly to the chief, assistant chief or any other supervisor here …” they can speak to the city manager or their city commissioner, Doan said.

“So, actually there is a board — an elected one —  that can get involved in the review of things …” which he said is part of their job.

And, like Boyle County Sheriff Derek Robbins, Doan said a citizen’s review board would not possess expertise in the field of law enforcement, especially in use-of-force situations. “I believe the right leaders are in place to ensure our processes are fair and consistent, and we do not have a history of being an agency that requires additional oversight.”

 

‘I wish more would learn about it’ 

 

The list also demands “a review of the DPD no-knock and lethal force use policies.” Doan said he’s been involved in the planning and execution of many search warrants over the years.

“And never have we used a no-knock provision, and it would be very rare if we ask for it.” He said the department would have to “articulate that there is a significant element of danger involved, and that the element of complete surprise upon entry would be needed to make an apprehension …”

Doan and Gray are made aware anytime an officer is seeking to obtain a search warrant, “and all the details of the situation, no matter what day or time it is,” Doan said. Part of the criteria for any search warrant, he said, is ensuring the entry team have operating body cameras on.

Doan said their lethal force policies and training “fall in line with state law, the Department of Criminal Justice training, and best practices set forth by the Kentucky League of Cities.”

He said he wishes more would take the opportunity to join the Citizens Academy, the crash course offered by the PD introducing everyday citizens to various policies and procedures that must be followed by officers on a routine basis. It also covers what dictates what officers can and can’t do when it comes to utilizing force to detain someone, for example, or when making an arrest.

“I wish more in the community would learn about it.”

Doan said it’s important for citizens to be educated on things like the difference between being arrested and being detained, or when do you have to show an ID, all things they discuss during the academy.

“Can you be stopped on the side of the street for just walking, what dictates that, when we do things like that and why. We even talked about the school systems (offering some type of class). What better class could we have for kids when they turn 16 or 17 — the most probable time someone will have contact with police is while in the car, driving. What do you do when you get traffic stopped, how do you act, does the passenger have to talk to the police, then build on that.”

Since Kentucky is not an “ID state,” Doan said, people can learn things like “do you have to show me an ID any time I ask for it, and we learn what Supreme Court case dictates that I can detain you. Those are all things that if the public knew more about, the more educated they are, the more understanding they have of what we do and why. And they also know if we’re going beyond that … It’s good for both.”

 

Pay: ‘We cannot sustain the path we are on’ 

 

The Change list of demands also wants the PD to “address issues with racial profiling,” and to provide updates every three months on taffic stops to include “race, gender, reason for stop and outcome.”

“Myself and Chief look at every report and every citation written, to ensure our standards are being met,” Doan said. He said they have talked about posting traffic stop numbers and other data, “once our staffing level rises, so we could dedicate this responsibility to someone.”

But, that takes manpower, he said, a sticking point for a department that loses recruits due to higher-paying agencies.

The PD currently has 31 officers, with two of those not being able to attend the police academy yet due to the COVID pandemic, Doan said. The department is “allotted” for 37 officers.

“Since August, we have lost six officers and have only been able to hire three to date. Five out of the six officers who left received pay increases (by going to another agency).”

Doan said the department has been “working diligently behind the scenes with city staff in hopes of correcting our pay issues. We cannot sustain the path we are currently on when it comes to losing staff, and we hope this will be addressed very soon.”

The Change list also focuses on that problem, highlighting that police pay needs to be reviewed to make sure it’s comparable to other departments similar in size.

“We are concerned about police pay — we’re going to bring that back up,” Burton said. “Right now, Danville’s PD pays $12.44 an hour … you can’t live in Danville for that. Asking a police officer who makes $12.44 an hour to carry a gun and defend our community, and he’s not making enough to pay bills.”

Doan confirmed that as starting pay, and that after graduation from the academy and 10-weeks of field training, officers are bumped to $13.52. “We have an officer who has been here for 20 years and only makes $20.41 — after 20 years of service, that’s only $7.92 above starting pay for a recruit.”

Burton said if an officer is stressed out about their home life from a financial standpoint, “they have that stress and they have a gun, they’re in a tough situation and they may not make the right decision due to all the stress they have.” She includes firefighters’ pay in the group’s concern, as well.

Burton said the commission “should have done a lot better by making sure our first responders are taken care of. Someone has dropped the ball for many years. Some argue that they have good insurance and retirement, but they have to live, also.”

In her meetings, Burton said she found out, for example, the PD just lost an officer to Lawrenceburg, who is now making $20 an hour. “Why can’t Danville pay that? I get it raises taxes, but they should figure out a way to raise (the pay) for police, city workers and the fire department. Why can other places do it and Danville can’t?”

Burton also said the PD should work harder on making officers be more of a part of the community. “They should go out into the neighborhood and meet kids …” and get involved with things like coaching sports or a mentoring program, she said.

“But Tony (Gray) says they don’t have the manpower to do it because they can’t keep them due to pay,” she said. She then gave an example of what they are doing, like how she witnessed a Danville officer on patrol in her neighborhood who got out to talk to kids and handed out junior-officer stickers to them.

“One of the little boys actually said, ‘I wasn’t speeding, don’t take me to jail,’ which goes to show you what they think of the police.”

She said officers able to be involved in community engagement like this on a regular basis can change a child’s view of the police as a whole, something she’d like to see more of.

Doan said he and Chief Gray agree with these needs, but are not in the position to enact them.

“We need to expand our community outreach programs, but low staffing has such a trickle down effect, we are so busy and call-driven that we don’t have the personnel to do many of the extra things we’d like to,” he said. Mentoring programs, like National Night Out and other initiatives, he said, are things that had to be “shelved due to staffing.”

Doan said, “We are constantly trying to figure out how to do more with less.”

Coming up: Check back for the city of Danville’s response to United for Change-Danville’s presentation of their list of demands.