59 minutes | Jul 16th 2020

IN Focus with Mike Britt and Brylynn Quisenberry

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The third and final (for now) episode of the public affairs program IN Focus that I have been guest-hosting in July aired this evening on WCTV. Like my earlier conversations with Betsy Schlabach, Archer Bunner and Bill Engle, it again touches on some of the challenges of confronting and addressing racism in our communities. First I talk with Chief Mike Britt of the Richmond Police Department about how they are responding to national and local concerns about racial bias in policing. Then, I speak with Brylynn Quisenberry about what it was like to organize a local event demonstrating against racist police violence and affirming that Black Lives Matter. Two very different perspectives, and both were intense conversations to have in their own regard. I appreciate the time each guest took with me. I’m sure I left out important questions and could have asked better versions of the ones I did. But most of all I hope these exchanges prompt further conversation and action toward justice for everyone who lives here. We have a lot of work to do. I welcome your feedback. You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app. Transcript The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions. Chris Hardie: Hi and welcome to this week’s episode of In Focus on Whitewater Community Television WGTV Channel 11. I’m Chris Hardie, sitting in for Eric Marsh, as your host. This is the third episode in a series of conversations that we’ve been having about what it means for our community to work on and really make progress on the serious and historic challenges of racism, and racial discrimination in policing. In particular, we’re exploring what it means for white people here to join in an attempt to understand our role in systems of racism and what actions we can take to be a part of the solution. Racism and related concepts, like white privilege, are not easy topics for white people to explore. It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s full of potential for misunderstanding, defensiveness, hurt feelings, or just feeling overwhelmed. But it is clear that if we care about justice, if we care about making sure that everyone in our community can rise together, we have to do this work, and we have to do it urgently. We have to look inside ourselves and be willing to see what’s there, we have to have these conversations out loud with each other, and we have to show that we are listening that we are understanding and that we are willing to take action. My two guests this hour are coming from very different places in this conversation. A bit later I’ll be talking with Brylynn Quisenberry, a local high school student who recently organized a march around pursuing racial justice. First I’m talking with the Chief of Police of the Richmond Police Department, Mike Britt. Chief Britt, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today, I really appreciate it. Mike Britt: You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure. Chris: You became Chief just back in April, right in the middle of a pandemic, and a lot of other things going on but you’ve you’ve been a part of the force in the department for some time, can you just tell us briefly about your history with the Richmond Police Department? Mike: Well, I’ve been a full-time Richmond officer going on 25 years. Prior to that I was a dispatcher and a reserve officer so I’ve got about a 35 year history with the Department. And it was in January of 2016 when Chief Branum was named as the new Chief of police by Mayor Snow, he appointed me as a Deputy Chief. I’ve been in the administrative offices since 2016. Chris: Okay great. And we’ve been talking on this show about sort of the renewed national attention to problems of systemic racism, incidents of police violence and I wanted to ask what kinds of things the Richmond Police Department has done or has thought about in response to that and in that context? Mike: Well it’s it’s been a very difficult time and I want to start this topic off by saying that those of you who hate the police based on what you saw in recent news articles of officers from Minneapolis and other places in this world, as a profession, as a representative of this profession I apologize for that because I don’t think what you or anybody else saw was true modern police work. What you saw or criminal acts and it’s very unfortunate that the acts of a few officers can cause so many problems to a nationwide organization. And that is what we’ve seen in the news is not what Richmond Police Department or I or most other agencies stand for. This is very unfortunate. Chris: Thank you for that. Are there any specific changes that you, as a department, have made in training procedures or reporting policies, rules of engagement, and I know that it’s a conversation and we’ve heard about different departments looking at how they handle certain kinds of engagements as a result, is that something that has come to the Richmond Police Department as well? Mike: Yes we’ve began the discussion. We have policies and procedures in place, and one of our long-term goals, we haven’t been able to really get completed, is a complete update of our policies and procedures. So some of them are old, however they do cover the key, such as use of force, the use of force continuum and the case law that exists regarding use of force. Just the policies need updated just a bit so I’ve been spending a lot of time going over our existing policies and our training as well. Currently Major Bales and I, my Deputy Chief, been in contact with a company that has offered us an opportunity to rewrite our policy manual and bring it up to today’s standards as far as legally defensible policies. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at. In general. I looked over our entire operation and, you’ll notice, and hopefully the public can too, the Richmond Police Department is not been involved in any unfortunate incidents, thank God, and that’s just because I have good people. The men and women of the Richmond Police Department are great officers and there’s inherent training now when police officer comes on new in the profession. They’ve integrated IS based policing training as well as the escalation techniques and the mental, emotional training that’s all part of the Academy now, and it’s also a part of our annual re-certification training which we are going through right now. Every officer on this department, and pretty much the state of Indiana, has mandatory training that they have to go through every year and we contracted with a web-based company where the officers are working their way through several hours of video along with pre and post-test and it covers most of those key areas, so we are, I think we’re doing a pretty good job keeping up on that, but we could always do better. And that’s what I’m looking at, what more can I do? And I apologize if we haven’t done that so quickly, I think it’s important think this through. I don’t like knee-jerk reactions and we don’t currently have any issues that have come to the forefront, so we’re thinking forward on this and we can take the right steps, but basically we’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got a, like I say, a great group of officers that are young and, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but since 2016, we counted the other day, we’ve hired 36 policemen, which makes a very young department. Mike: One of the issues that I had that coming in, of course I’m an old guy, older generation, they go millennials, yeah that’s gonna be a problem but it really is not. And what I’m learning along the way it’s that one of the first things that we saw when we started putting younger policemen on the street is the complaints against officers for rudeness and that type of thing is really falling away we don’t get as many complaints of that nature. And I’m finding that these newer officers are, I guess the newer generation, are a lot more tolerant of different social status and I couldn’t be prouder. They’re a lot more accepting of other cultures and I’m not casting the shadow on my generation but when you look around us some of the major incidents in the country you’ll notice that a lot of these guys are our older officers that may be from a different generation of policing. Chris: I do want ask, at a recent demonstration here back in June you know, people sharing some stories of being treated, they felt poorly in certain circumstances because they felt the color of their skin, being treated poorly by local law enforcement and it’s hard to know, if we weren’t there, it’s hard to understand exactly what happened. But I do wonder how you track or if you track or investigate any claims of racial discrimination or bias in local policing, is that a part of some of the systems that you talked about? Mike: Yes, as long as I can remember we’ve always tracked complaints against officers. Additionally, one of the most important things that we do, I don’t think it’s mandatory in the state of Indiana yet, but we’ve been doing it for several years but any time officer has to use force of any type with a citizen, such as displaying a weapon or going hands-on with somebody, in addition to the report that the officer writes, the standard criminal report, it’s accompanied by a use of force report,
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