Defining chokeholds as deadly force doesn’t go far enough.
That was the message sent to members of the Rochester Police Policy Oversight Commission Wednesday evening during an online listening session.
“Moving from use of force to deadly force doesn’t go far enough,” online commenter Jennifer Belisle said, referring to Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin’s recent decision to reclassify the restraint technique, which is also known as carotid control.
“Take it out of the policy. Ban chokeholds in Rochester 100%,” added Belisle, who is a former member of the Olmsted County Human Rights Commission.
The policy oversight commission held the listening session, with the help of the Diversity Council, to gather such opinions as it prepares to make recommendations regarding the police department’s use-of-force policy, along with its policy on handcuffs and restraints and its standards of conduct.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton challenged the commission on June 9 to propose potential revisions within 30 days. The commission is set to meet online at 3 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the policies.
During the June meeting, Franklin said he was changing the chokehold reference, noting it hasn’t been used locally in recent years.
The previous policy stated: “The proper application of the carotid control hold may be effective in restraining a violent or combative individual” and provided guidelines for use.
Franklin’s revision states: “The proper application of the carotid control hold may be effective in restraining a violent or combative individual and shall only be used when deadly force is authorized.”
W.C. Jordan, a member of the police policy commission, said the change may not go far enough.
“We have seen so many cases where the chokehold has resulted in deaths in police custody,” he said, adding that police have other tools, including Tasers, to deal with violent offenders.
Additionally, he raised concerns about neck restraints being used on people who are already subdued or in handcuffs, referencing the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Commission member Lawrence Collins, however, said defining the restraint as deadly force means it wouldn’t be allowed if a person is already handcuffed.
“There are instances when it is the last best chance for an officer to protect his own life or protect the lives of others,” Collins, a retired judge, said in outlining his argument to keep the chokehold as an option in extreme circumstances.
Aziza Ali, an online commenter during the listening session, said police training is the problem.
“Police are trained to kill; they aren't trained to de-escalate,” she wrote. “That’s the problem and if you train a bunch of racist (people) to kill, what do you think is gonna happen?”
Jordan agreed de-escalation of a violent situation should be a mandated first option in police policy.
Last month, in response to a video depicting local police interaction with a misidentified man, Norton said 80 percent of the city’s police department staff has received training to de-escalate conflicts in the last year.
“We’re striving for 100 percent, but we have one of the best rates, as I understand it,” she said at the time.
Online commenter Nikki Eggum suggested Wednesday the policy should take into account everyone involved in a violent situation.
“I think protection goes both ways… I think making changes should be for the good of both sides,” she wrote.
Much of Wednesday’s discussion, which drew nearly 90 viewers at one point, veered off the topic of the three policies, steering toward issues of racial disparities in enforcement, hiring practices and the authority of the commission.
Dee Sabol, executive director of the Diversity Council, said the comments displayed a frustration related to the lack of paths for community input regarding desired changes in local policing.
“It was a great place to start,” she said of Wednesday’s discussion, citing the potential for similar forums.
Ali pointed to her desire for a future event in the comments.
“We need a listening session with the police department and chief,” she wrote. “I have a lot to say.”