Even before Geneva Police Chief Eric Passarelli wrote his June 2 message to the community, questions were rolling into the City regarding local policing efforts after the death of George Floyd. In his latest blog post, the Chief takes time to respond to those questions.
The last few weeks have been heart-wrenching for our country. The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, along with other instances of police brutality focused on people of color, has shaken the confidence of many communities in their local police departments.
Over the past two weeks, I have spoken with numerous members of our community. I have been asked about the steps that we have taken, or will take, to avoid a situation like that which occurred in Minnesota. I have had the invaluable opportunity to speak with people of color who have openly described their past experiences with police officers here in Geneva and throughout the country. While some of their experiences were positive, other experiences they described created in them fear and anxiety. It was important to hear them as they described these negative experiences so that we can learn how to best serve all members of our community. It is our responsibility to assure that no one fears interaction with a police officer simply based upon the color of their skin, gender, sexual orientation, or their religious affiliation. It is also our responsibility to hold those officers accountable who violate the oath of their office and the trust put in them by the community they serve.
The questions that I have received over the past two weeks have focused on the primary topics of hiring practices, training, use of force policies, investigation of the use of deadly force, use of body cameras, mental health services, and officer mental health to name a few. These are extremely important topics to address to assure transparency and to maintain the hard-earned bond of trust with our community. I truly understand that trust is earned and not given. We must work every day to maintain this trust by being responsive to the needs of our community.
Before I address the above-mentioned topics, I do think that it is important to explain our departmental philosophy. Our philosophy centers on the Golden Rule. Every member of the Geneva Police Department is expected, without exception, to treat everyone they come in contact with as they would a beloved family member. We believe that this builds a solid foundation that assures all people are treated with compassion, empathy, dignity, and respect. While we may fail in this area at times, we are always striving to be better and to learn from our failures.
Hiring Process For New Police Officers
Our service to our community begins with our hiring process for new police officers. The hiring process is arduous and very few candidates will have the opportunity to serve as police officers. Quite frankly, that is the way that it should be. The hiring process begins with a written exam and physical fitness testing that is conducted by the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. The board is made up of residents from within the community, appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council, who are tasked with selecting police candidates. Once a candidate has passed the written exam and physical fitness testing, they are subject to an oral interview with the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. Successfully passing the oral interview, the written exam, and the physical fitness testing results in their placement on an eligibility list. The eligibility list is valid for two years.
If there is an opening within the Police Department during that time, the candidate, based upon numerical placement on the list, is brought int for an interview with our Command Staff. This interview is designed to determine the suitability of the candidate to serve our community. The interview focuses on assuring that our departmental philosophies align with those who seek employment with our department. Our goal is to hire for character and train for skill. Once the determination is made that a conditional employment offer should be extended, the candidate then undergoes rigorous testing. This includes a psychological exam, a polygraph exam, a full medical exam, and a thorough background check conducted by our detectives.
If a candidate passes all pre-employment testing and requirements, they are sent to a basic police academy certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to provide the training. The training academy lasts for 14 weeks. Upon successful completion of the basic training academy and the state certification exam, they are assigned to a field training officer for an additional 14 weeks. During this time they are assigned to work with a veteran officer who supervises and evaluates every aspect of their performance. The field training program is extremely challenging and requires the recruit officer to put in a great deal of work, time and effort. The training includes evaluation of their day-to-day job performance dealing with real-world calls for service and also includes invaluable scenario-based training. A recruit officer is assigned to three different field training officers throughout their training to assure the most thorough evaluation can occur. If the recruit officer successfully completes the field training program, they are certified for solo patrol. The time frame from the initial employment offer to certification for solo patrol is usually between 9 to 12 months.
To assure the learning process does not stop for our new officers, they are assigned a mentor who assists them with questions that may arise while they are on solo patrol. After their first year with the department, officers must complete a probationary assessment panel. The panel consists of their original field training officers along with the coordinators of the field training program. The probationary assessment panel is designed to assure the recruit officer remained current in their training, and that they continued their professional growth while on solo patrol. The panel exam lasts nearly four hours and requires the recruit officer to answer questions related to departmental policies and procedures, criminal law, motor vehicle laws, and departmental philosophies. This is an oral exam, and the recruit officer must pass the exam to complete their probationary period of employment. The probationary period lasts 18 months and begins at the time the officer is hired.
The Geneva Police Department places great value on the training and education of our police officers. Thirty-two of our 36 sworn officers have earned college degrees. In order to have a professional police department, it is imperative that officers are provided opportunities to grow professionally and to attend training that provides best practices in an ever-changing profession. The State of Illinois requires officers to complete certain specified training. Each year, officers must participate in training focused on legal updates and the proper use of force. Every three years officers must complete training in civil rights, constitutional and proper use of law enforcement authority, human rights, cultural competency, and procedural justice. In addition to these important topics, officers participate in training that includes mental health first aid, CPR/AED certification, taser certification, Naloxone administration, and the proper use of force related to defensive tactics. Many of our training classes include de-escalation training as part of the curriculum.
To best serve the needs of our community, we have actively participated in Crisis Intervention Team Training (CIT) for our police officers. This specialized training is designed to provide officers a skill set to more effectively de-escalate those situations where a person may be in crisis as a result of several different factors. These factors include mental health issues, substance abuse issues, Autism, dementia, or other disorders. More than 80% of our 36 sworn officers are CIT trained. We intend to have 100% of our officers CIT trained as soon as it is possible. Officers must have a specific amount of experience before being eligible to attend the class. With several recent new hires due to retirements, and COVID-19 restrictions, the timeline of this training has been affected. It is a high priority to assure that all of our officers attend this highly valuable training as soon as they are able to do so.
Use Of Force
The use of force by a police officer is a matter of critical importance, both to the public and the law enforcement community. Our department recognizes and respects the value of all human life and dignity without prejudice to anyone. As I mentioned in the training section above, our officers must participate in the use of force training annually. This training focuses on the use of force laws in Illinois, ethics related to use of force, using force to effect an arrest, and factors that determine whether the use of force by a police officer is reasonable.
According to Illinois law, an officer is justified in the use of force which is reasonably believed to be necessary to effect an arrest or necessary to defend themselves or another person from receiving great bodily harm or death. The applicable statute that describes this is 720 ILCS 5/7-5. The use of deadly force is authorized in very few circumstances. The most common application is when an officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.
I have been asked by the public where chokeholds fit into the use of force utilized by our police officers and to implement policies that forbid chokeholds. In 2016, the State of Illinois passed a law that prohibits the use of chokeholds unless the circumstances justify the use of deadly force. This statute can be found at 720 ILCS 5/7-5.5. Our departmental policy mirrors state law as it relates to the prohibition of chokeholds. The wording in the statute provides that a peace officer shall not use a chokehold in the performance of his or her duties unless deadly force is justified under article 7 of this code. A peace officer shall not use a chokehold, or any lesser contact with the throat or neck area of another, to prevent the destruction of evidence by ingestion. The statute goes on to further define a chokehold as applying any direct pressure to the throat, windpipe, or airway of another with the intent to reduce or prevent the intake of air.
I have also been asked to comment on the duty of officers to intercede when they observe unreasonable force being utilized. Our departmental policy states that any officer who is present and observes an officer utilizing force that is clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances shall when in a position to do so, intercede to prevent the use of unreasonable force. The officer who observed the use of force that exceeds the degree of force permitted by law shall promptly report the observations to a supervisor.
Lastly, the topic of shooting at moving vehicles was brought to my attention. Our departmental policy advises that officers should move out of the path of an approaching vehicle rather than discharging their firearm at the vehicle or its occupants. An officer should only discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle or its occupants when the officer reasonably believes there are no other means available to avert the threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the officers or others.
Investigation Of An Officer-Involved Death
State law requires that any time that the use of force by a police officer results in the death of any person, the investigation must be conducted by an objective and independent third party law enforcement agency. Representatives of the involved agency may not be involved in the investigation of the officer-involved death. Once the investigation is completed by the independent third party, the results are presented to the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office for review and criminal charges, if warranted and appropriate. While this criminal review is occurring, departments are required to conduct an internal investigation to assure that all departmental policies were followed. In addition, any officer who is involved in an officer-involved death is mandated by law to submit to drug and alcohol testing as soon as is possible following the event.
The State of Illinois also mandates that all police departments are required to notify the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board within 30 days of a final determination that an officer willfully violated department policy, committed official misconduct, or a violation of the law that, results in the dismissal of the officer as a result of the violation. The board also must be notified if an officer resigns during the course of an investigation, and after the officer has been served notice that they are under investigation that is based upon them committing a Class 2 or greater felony offense. This professional misconduct database was established in 2016 and details can be found at 50 ILCS 705/6.2
Body Cameras & Squad Car Cameras
I have been questioned frequently in regards to the use of body cameras or squad car cameras. Through our annual budgeting process in fiscal year 2019-20, the Police Department received approval to purchase squad car video cameras. The squad car camera system consists of a video camera and microphone system that records the actions of police officers on traffic stops and other day-to-day occurrences. Due to supply chain interruptions caused by COVID-19, the squad car cameras have not yet been received. Some necessary components have been received and have already been installed at the department. We are excited to begin utilizing these cameras as another method to provide transparency to the community.
While squad car camera systems are expensive and require additional management, the impacts are not as extensive as body cameras. We are always evaluating the most appropriate technology to assure officers have the tools to best do their job while providing transparency and accountability to our community. We will evaluate the totality of the circumstances to determine whether or not body cameras are a viable alternative for our department in the future.
One of the most frequent types of calls for service the Geneva Police Department receives involves those suffering from a mental health crisis. Many of these calls do not involve any criminality. Police officers respond to these calls regularly, usually because family members or bystanders simply do not know who else to call. Police departments have been forced to adjust their approach so that we can effectively and safely respond to these calls. These adjustments have included the Crisis Intervention Team Training (CIT) mentioned earlier along with creating partnerships with mental health professionals in our community.
The Geneva Police Department contracts with licensed clinical social workers who are available to assist us on any call for service. They frequently respond to assist us at the scene of those experiencing a mental health crisis, a housing crisis, a domestic-related incident, a behavioral issue with a child, death notifications, and numerous other situations. When response directly to the scene of an incident is not appropriate, we coordinate referrals to the social workers and follow up occurs at a later time. These mental health professionals provide another avenue for de-escalation of those emotionally charged events that police officers regularly encounter.
Officer Mental Health
This is an important topic that has become more prevalent over the past few years. Police officers frequently experience emotionally charged situations and tragedies. Our responsibility to our community is to have our officers treat everyone with compassion, empathy, dignity, and respect. An important aspect of this responsibility is to assure that individual events, or cumulative stressors of the police profession, are not allowed to negatively impact the officers or the level of service.
We have worked to create and foster a culture where officers are comfortable in reaching out to a variety of resources should they need assistance. This includes participation in and access to critical incident stress debriefing teams, access to employee assistance programs, access to licensed clinical social workers, ongoing efforts to create a peer counseling program, and a chaplain program. While there is still much work to be done, these programs and initiatives have been put in place to allow our officers to continue to best serve our community.
The Geneva Police Department is dedicated to continuous improvement for our officers and our processes. Transparency is another important aspect of building trust. I hope this information provides you some insight into our efforts to professionally, ethically, and compassionately serve our residents and those who work in and visit the City of Geneva.
Geneva Police Chief