After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in late May, many local governments, activists and citizens are looking to overhaul police use-of-force policies.
Mike Berezin, the chief of the Missouri City Police Department, updated City Council on his department’s use-of-force policies at a June 23 meeting.
Berezin did this by articulating the city’s current practices as they relate to Campaign Zero’s popularized #8CantWait reforms.
According to its website, #8CantWait is a series of recommended policy changes that would restrict use of force and reduce deaths in police custody. #8CantWait reforms include banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring a warning before shooting and comprehensive reporting requirements.
Find out which #8CantWait reforms Missouri City police already have in their policies and which they do not below.
Are chokeholds and strangleholds banned in Missouri City?
Berezin said he initially answered citizens by saying that chokeholds and strangleholds were not banned in Missouri City. However, he said after learning the federal definition of banned and a directive from the Texas Police Chiefs Association to include such a ban in the department’s policies, he says yes, these restraints are banned.
MCPD has since written this ban into its use-of-force policy, Berezin said.
“Chokeholds or carotid artery neck restraints are prohibited unless the officer involved is justified in the use of deadly force,” Berezin said, reading from MCPD policy. “Any officer using such force will cease immediately upon control of the subject.”
Are Missouri City police officers required to de-escalate?
Berezin said this was already a requirement in the department’s use-of-force policy and that officers are expected to de-escalate when possible.
“No logical person, no reasonable person wants to harm another person,” Berezin said. “That being said, that’s sometimes what our public expects us to do to protect the lives and property of others. So to say we never use force, that would be a foolish statement, but we do all we can to encourage someone to comply without ever having to touch them.”
Do MCPD officers have to warn before shooting?
No, there is no requirement before shooting, Berezin said. He said it is not feasible to have this as an absolute mandate.
“As much as I think that would be a lovely thing to happen, that’s not always possible,” Berezin said.
He went on to say that the people who wrote this recommendation probably never walked a mile in a police officer’s shoes.
Do Missouri City police officers exhaust all other means before shooting?
“That’s an absolute yes,” Berezin said. “We always do all we can to exhaust all means before any use of force, especially deadly force.”
He said this point goes back to de-escalation practices and making sure the department is hiring and training the right people.
Do Missouri City police officers have a duty to intervene?
Previously Berezin said MCPD policies said officers were required to uphold the law regardless of who is breaking it. The department now spells out intervention requirements in its code of conduct.
The policy now says: “Any employee present and observing another employee, regardless of rank, using force clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances, shall, when in a position to do so safely, intervene by verbal and or physical means to prevent the use of excessive force,” Berezin said.
Under the policy, employees are required to report this type of incident to a supervisor. Failing to intervene or failing to report improper use of force can result in discipline.
“I’ve seen it actually take place in our city where someone is applying too much force because they just got too excited, and I’ve seen our officers grab them and say ‘stop, knock it off,’” Berezin said.
Do Missouri City police policies ban shooting at moving vehicles?
Berezin said while there is no ban, all of the officers are trained that “5 ounces of lead is not successful in stopping a ton of steel coming at you.”
However, MCPD policy states shots will not be fired at a moving vehicle unless all other means defense have failed.
Does Missouri City require a use-of-force continuum?
Yes. Berezin said Missouri City’s use-of-force continuum starts with mere officer presence and elevates up to deadly force.
“That doesn’t mean that you step on every rung of that ladder of force continuum because sometimes you show up and may be engaged by gunfire and can’t go through all the steps,” Berezin said.
Does Missouri City require comprehensive reporting?
Berezin said this point relates to whether use-of-force incidents have to be documented. This requirement is in city policy, he said.