State News

Justice Department tells Fayetteville police: Improve use-of-force policies

Posted December 16, 2015 2:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2015 6:47 p.m. EST

— Federal officials are urging Fayetteville police to improve their use-of-force policies.

A series of recommendations by the U.S. Justice Department was released Wednesday afternoon following a review of Fayetteville Police Department records from 2013 and 2014 and interviews with police officers, community leaders and local residents.

The Justice Department said Fayetteville's system does not provide accurate records on citizen complaints and officers' use of force. It recommends a more comprehensive system, including demographic information on complainants and the use of force.

The report also says the department should prohibit officers from firing warning shots because of the possibility that innocent people get hurt, should emphasize de-escalating confrontations to steer them away from possible use of force and should communicate more with the State Bureau of Investigation about reviews of use-of-force cases.

Justice Department officials also called for more training of officers on community engagement and for continued review of traffic stops for racial disparities.

If there is a criminal use of force, then the officer should be held accountable. We all agree with that," said Ronald Davis, director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. "But if there was a use of force, even though it was legal, that poor tactics contributed to, that could have been prevented, then the department has an obligation to make the kind of changes and provide the kind of training and equipment so that they can reduce all uses of force. not just excessive force."

The report comes more than 18 months after Police Chief Harold Medlock requested an on-site review in an effort to determine how the police department can improve operations and community relations.

Medlock said Wednesday that he is scared for his officers on the street, noting that officers have responded to five incidents in the last six weeks in which suspects were firing guns or had guns in sight when police arrived.

"Some of the training that we have engaged in over the last couple of years, I think, has helped – de-escalation training, good tactical training, good supervision and good leadership from line-level officers – to keep those incidents from turning into deadly force incidents," he said.

Fayetteville is one of eight police departments across the country being evaluated by the Justice Department, and the report is being forwarded to 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States.

Medlock said he has already started to implement some of the recommended changes in daily policies and procedures to continue to improve his department's relationship with the community.