Use of Force, Disability, and Transparency

Here’s a short letter on use of force, disability, and transparency I sent to my representatives:

To those in Dripping Springs, Hays County, and Texas state government,

In response to a public information request for use of force policies, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office provided only eight pages of policy. The policy does not address deescalation, chokeholds, duty to intervene, warn before shooting, moving vehicles, transparency, or reporting. For more, I discuss what little there is of the policy here:

https://ryan.boren.me/2016/07/04/foia-use-of-force-policy-and-then-ask-these-questions/

I share this to bring awareness and to urge policy agendas of transparency and accountability in policing.

Local policy agenda:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55ad38b1e4b0185f0285195f/t/55dce731e4b07137c6a819b9/1440540465863/CampaignZERO+Local+Policy+Agenda.pdf

State policy agenda:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55ad38b1e4b0185f0285195f/t/55dce7b3e4b0b9d287069df9/1440540595819/Campaign+ZERO+State+Policy+Agenda.pdf

As a neurodivergent parent of neurodivergent kids, use of force is of particular interest to me and my family. Police use of force and school-to-prison pipelines disproportionately impact those with disabilities. Use of force policy should be available online to all and should address neurodiversity, mental illness, disability, and deescalation. Use of force is a social contract to be discussed openly.

Help bring transparency and end compliance culture. We are responsible for humanizing the systems we inhabit. Encourage and require transparency from Texas law enforcement agencies. Dallas PD serves as a role model. They’ve taken positive steps toward transparency.

This is not all on police. They need support to handle the big issues of disability, neurodiversity, and mental illness. They need resources, training, and the assistance of other institutions and social structures. They should not have to fill the massive lack of services for our most vulnerable citizens.

With open data and open government, we can work on these issues together. Default to open. Sunlight heals.

Regards,

Ryan Boren
https://ryan.boren.me/
https://twitter.com/rboren
Dripping Springs, TX

FOIA use of force policy and then ask these questions

Muckrock makes submitting a public information request to your local law enforcement agency (LEA) pretty easy. Existing requests serve as templates you can clone. To submit a request for use of force policies to your local LEA:

  1. Select a use of force policy request for a town in your state from this list: https://www.muckrock.com/search/?q=use%20of%20force%20policy
  2. Click/tap the Clone button.
  3. Change the agency name in the title.
  4. Change the jurisdiction and agency in the selector.
  5. Click/tap the File button.

That will wrap the magical line “All current policies maintained by the department regarding use of force” with boilerplate appropriate for your jurisdiction. If your local LEA is not in Muckrock’s database, Muckrock will do the grunt work of finding the right agency contacts. You can speed this process by providing the agency’s email address, website, and phone numbers. Further, search your local government’s web site for an open records request contact. Here’s an example of an open records page on a local government website.

Once you obtain the use of force policy, read it with these questions from Use of Force Project in mind:

Affirms Value of Life:  Does the policy affirm that preservation of life is the primary, most important, and/or sole principle guiding police actions?

Requires De-Escalation: Does the policy require officers to de-escalate situations, when possible?

Bans Chokeholds and Strangleholds: Are chokeholds and strangleholds (including carotid restraints) explicitly prohibited, except in situations where deadly force is authorized?

Duty to Intervene: Are officers required to intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force?

Warn Before Shooting: Are officers required to give a verbal warning before shooting someone, when possible?

Moving Vehicles: Are officers prohibited from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless the subject presents a separate deadly threat other than the vehicle itself?

Transparency: Is the full, unredacted use of force policy available online?

Reporting:  Are all uses of force required to be reported, including the pointing of a firearm at a civilian?

My local LEA, Hays County Sheriff’s Office, responded to my public information request with an 8 page policy. Its brevity does not answer these questions, though it somewhat affirms life.

It is the policy of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) that employees will respond to resistance/threats prudently for their own protection, the protection of the life, health, or safety of others and property, in the execution of a lawful arrest or search, and/or as otherwise authorized by the law. Employees will employ objective reasonableness as a standard for appropriate levels of response.

Compare that to the Austin Police Department’s affirmation.

The protection of life is the primary core value and guiding principle of the Austin Police Department. As such, all employees will strive to preserve human life while recognizing that duty may require the use of deadly force, as a last resort, after other reasonable alternatives have failed or been determined impractical. The department’s basic goal is to protect life, property, and to preserve the peace in a manner consistent with the freedom secured by the United States Constitution. Employees of the Department are professionals. We must realize our main responsibility is the protection of the community and the preservation of human life and dignity.