Police, social media policies topic at council work session

Enterprise District 1 Councilwoman Sonya Wheeler Rich

Being proactive rather than reactive is why Enterprise District 1 City Councilwoman Sonya Wheeler Rich said she started the dialogue with the city’s police chief and human resources director.

“Since the death of George Floyd, many eyes have been opened to the reality of racial injustices and inequities in this country,” Rich said. “And many municipalities have either involuntarily or voluntarily taken a close look at their policies concerning police tactics as well as their response to police misconduct and employee professionalism.

“My goal is that I don’t want us, as city leaders, to bury our heads in the sand concerning this issue and however sensitive and uncomfortable it may be, I think a discussion is necessary,” Rich said at the Enterprise City Council work session June 16. “All I want to know is what policies our city has in place regarding not only police misconduct and brutality but what training our department offers to our officers on subjects such as racial insensitivity and diversity training as well as specific consequences for inappropriate acts.”

Rich said she asked Enterprise Police Chief T.D. Jones and Enterprise Director of Human Resources Christina Meissner to brief the council on current policies in their respective departments.

“First, I want to say that what happened to Mr. Floyd was horrific and not anyone in our department condones that kind of behavior,” Jones said, referring to the man who died May 25 in Minnesota during an arrest by police officers. “All our officers are supposed to know that when the threat is over, you stop the force on the individual. In fact, our policy says that you only use the force that’s necessary to deflect the threat. “

Jones read from the Enterprise Police Department policy manual. “This is the first sentence in our policy,” he said. “’Human life is sacred. Protecting human life is the most important mission of this agency. Apprehending criminals is less important than protecting innocent human beings.’

“We’re always reviewing our policies and this policy, I think, hits on everything,” Jones said. “I feel comfortable with the policy.

“The only change that we’re going to make is the addition of an Executive Order that the president (Donald Trump) made that came down through the attorney general’s office,” Jones said about the fact that choke holds are deemed illegal, except in a life or death situation for the officer.

Jones said that the EPD has continuing community outreach efforts to include Coffee with a Cop, Citizens Police Academy, Citizens Firearms Class and a new community relations canine.

Jones said that all EPD officers are required to successfully qualify annually through Firearms, Taser and Use of Force classes.

All new EPD officers take a four-hour Use of Force class “before they can ever set foot on the road,” Jones said. “We take a lot of pride in our policy.”

Jones said that there is a Citizens Complaint Form that can be filled out. “The captain of that division looks into any complaint and if he feels like there is misconduct, I will direct them to do an internal investigation.

“There is a line we draw and we stay behind that line,” Jones told the council. “If the officers have done something that requires dismissal, we do that. If it requires suspension, we do that.

“I want to say this about the Enterprise Police Department,” Jones stressed. “They do a tremendous job every day. We protect everyone, every community. I’m proud of the job they do every day.

“We have very few complaints—we do have some—and sometimes we agred to disagree but we sit down at the table and try to work it out. That’s the most important thing: To have dialogue, to work it out.

Jones said that the COVID-19 pandemic has limited training to virtual means, but that he has dialogued with the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Office in Montgomery in order to facilitate “fast-track training.”

Jones said that Community Policing, Ethics in Law Enforcement, Anti-Bias and Racial Profiling training is among training EPD officers participate in.

Meissner said that the city has cyber security and computer use policies that include social media use for employees. The city also enforces sexual harassment and harassment policies in place.

Meissner said she met recently with the city attorney, the mayor, the Interim Director of Engineering Services and the IT department personnel to review existing policies and procedures and to discuss any possible updates.

Reading from the city employee personnel manual, Meissner said. “’While city employees may enjoy and make good use of their off duty time related to social media sites, use of social media sites is strictly prohibited while on duty unless specifically approved in advance by the department head.’

“’Even when off duty, certain activities on the part of the employees may become a concern if they have the effect of impairing the work of the employee. The employees are not to use social media for the purpose of harassing, demeaning, or creating a hostile working environment for any employees.’ That covers emails as well,” she said.

Rich commended both department heads on their efforts. “You do a great job,” she said. “We don’t want to be on the reactive side of situations.”

The next meeting of the Enterprise City Council is July 7 in the council chambers at Enterprise City Hall. A work session begins at 5 p.m. and a voting meeting begins at 6 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public.

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