Raleigh police’s new de-escalation policy faces criticism


The new policy states that if a Raleigh police officer asks someone to comply with their orders — such as to drop their weapon — they must first try to defuse the situation before drawing their weapon.

After Raleigh police officers were fatally shot two people last year, Police Chief Estella Patterson approved a new de-escalation policy late last year. The two-page policy describes what officers must do to encourage someone to voluntarily comply with police orders rather than use deadly force. While it does not specify specific tactics to use, it covers many scenarios where a person may have difficulty complying with an officer’s commands, such as a mental health crisis or a language barrier.

Family members and activists say last year’s fatal shooting in two separate incidents happened after officers were confronted with such situations.

Police released the policy in December after six hearings to gather residents’ opinions. Capt. Eric Goodwin said at a public meeting in December that the policy describes “the expectations of everyone who wears the badge,” according to ABC11, N&O’s newsgathering partner. Goodwin, the policy project manager, did not respond to The News & Observer’s request for an interview.

The policy includes training to reduce the likelihood of police use deadly force. That training will begin later this year, police spokesman Lt. Jason Borneo said. The policy defines the role of the manager when he is present in such situations.

“By acting in accordance with these guidelines, we will demonstrate that we are responsible for our actions and that we have the utmost respect for the preservation of life, including the lives of the people we come into contact with, innocent people and ourselves. ,” according to the policy, which says it will be updated annually.

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said the department trains officers to “use the least amount of force.” That includes the police chief’s emphasis on using Tasers as a de-escalation tool, Baldwin told The N&O in a text message last week.

The latest police death in Raleigh

However, the man died in Raleigh police custody on January 17 after being pushed three times. Police said they were trying to arrest Darryl Williams in a parking lot on Rock Quarry Road for possession of a cocaine-like substance.

While the investigation into Williams’ death is ongoing, a report released by the chief on Jan. 23 states that Williams became “combative” and “resistant” when police tried to arrest him.

The report describes several confrontations between Williams and the officers, as well as a police officer warning him that he would be hit with a truncheon if he did not cooperate.

The report said Williams told police “I’m having heart problems” after being pushed twice.

There is no autopsy yet was released.

What does Raleigh’s de-escalation policy entail?

In the wake of the two shootings in Raleigh, police have applied for at least $118,000 in federal grants in 2021 to help pay for the development of a de-escalation training program for both sworn and non-sworn officers.

Departments across the country have revised their protocols and policies following the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Raleigh, for example, passed the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms, which included, among other things, a ban on chokeholds when using force.

As part of the training, the police were asked to revise their definition of “de-escalation”.

“The RPD will build on this definition to create a common philosophy of de-escalation and create a de-escalation policy that communicates that philosophy and further promotes the value of the sanctity of human life,” Borneo said.

The policy directs officers to consider a number of factors that may affect a person’s ability to comply with police commands: a language barrier, medical conditions, mental disorders, intoxication, developmental disabilities or physical limitations.

“When time and circumstances permit, the officer(s) shall consider whether the subject’s failure to comply is a deliberate attempt to resist or is the result of an inability to comply,” the policy states.

The policy also describes the accountability process and the role of the supervisor or responsible officer in the situation when responding to “complex, dynamic, complex and changing situations.”

Supervisors are tasked with evaluating whether officers should disengage, ask another officer to take control, or use force.

“At the appropriate time and when practicable,” supervisors are instructed to determine whether officers are following de-escalation guidelines and to refer officers to “remedial” training if they are found to be failing.

The policy came after the 2022 Raleigh police shooting

Deadly shootings Daniel Tursios last January and Ruel Rodríguez-Núñez in May drew public attention to police use of lethal force and de-escalation tactics.

Family members and activists questioned why the police did not try to defuse the situation before shooting the men.

In both cases, officers shot the men after they did not drop their weapons after several commands. Turcias swung a knife at police, and Rodriguez-Nunez threw a cup of flammable liquid at the officer, narrowly hitting him, police said. Wake County Prosecutor Lorin Freeman acknowledged that the officers acted legally in both cases, the N&O previously reported.

But in Turcios’ case, family members said the 43-year-old was disoriented after a car accident that preceded the confrontation with police. They said the El Salvador native did not understand police commands to drop the knife and that officers did not try to talk to him calmly before shooting him.

In the Rodriguez-Nunez case, the May 7 shooting drew criticism after one of the four officers at the scene was heard on body camera taunting the 37-year-old.

The new de-escalation policy states that an officer “must not antagonize or harass a person in a way that could lead to an unwarranted escalation.”

Rodriguez-Nunez arrived near a southeast Raleigh police station in a minivan and began setting police cars on fire with glasses of flammable liquid (called Molotov cocktails by police), N&O previously reported.

He had a history of mental illness and was likely having a mental health crisis, according to family members.

The three officers initially spoke to him from a distance without drawing their weapons, telling him to “calm down” and “don’t do that.”

A fourth, identified as Officer PW Coates, was heard on body cameras yelling “Do it! Do it!” and expletives that contradicted the actions of other officers.

Rodriguez-Nunez was largely unresponsive while surrounded by officers during the six-minute standoff. But after he threw the weapon at Coates, narrowly missing him, they fired 30 shots.

Four employees were placed on paid administrative leave. Coates was suspended last October 11, personnel records show. It came a day after Freeman released her report on whether the officers’ actions were legal. Police said the reason for the suspension is not public information.

All officers have resumed duty, the police department told The N&O via email. The results of their investigation are not public.

Is the policy of de-escalation enough?

Borneo said the listening sessions informed the changes that were made to the policy, adding that there were “significant changes” made based on input from the Raleigh Police Advisory Board. He did not specify what these changes are.

Kerwin Pittman, a Raleigh-based activist with the police group Emancipate NC, attended some of the listening sessions but said he was unhappy with the final policy. He said the language used to guide officers, such as “time and circumstances” and “if possible,” remains too vague.

“I think it’s great that they put something out there,” Pittman said. “But we know that if the policy doesn’t have specific things, it leaves room for interpretation by officers. In most cases, this is where mistakes occur and lives are lost.”

Pittman and Emancipate NC organized press conferences with the Turcias and Rodriguez-Nunez families to demand accountability from the Raleigh police.

“If you lack specificity, you lack accountability,” he said.

Keith Taylor, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, reviewed the Raleigh policy at The N&O’s request. He agreed with Pittman that a set of specific guidelines for what police officers should and shouldn’t do is a critical component missing from Raleigh’s policy.

“The parameters should not be blurred. They have to be sharp, sharp,” Taylor, a former NYPD detective, said in an interview. “But in terms of guidance for officers, as well as guidance for the public, it would be better if they were more specific in terms of what an officer should or should not do.”

Taylor compared that to the New York Police Department’s de-escalation policy, which he said includes “a fuller, more compelling explanation of what officers can and cannot do.” The NYPD’s 2016 use-of-force guidelines also state that the review board will hold the department accountable.

Taylor said it is important that the Raleigh Police Department Rules of Procedure be added to the policy.

“(Critics) want the officers to have a perspective that really reflects a conservative use of force and an abundant use of techniques that will detract from this confrontational situation in the first place,” he said. “Next steps will reflect this more fully to include other uses.”

Emancipate NC reviewed the draft policy in a Nov. 17 memo, comparing Raleigh’s proposal to the de-escalation policies of the Seattle Police Department and the Oregon State University Department of Public Safety.

“Compared to the examples presented to Emancipate NC by experienced policing experts, RPD’s proposed policy is too narrow in its purpose; there is a lack of specific, descriptive and step-by-step instructions for properly performing de-escalation; and in several cases provides caveats or loopholes that suggest that de-escalation is merely a precursor to the imminent use of force by officers,” the memo said.

In another note, Emancipate NC called the result “a draft policy with only minor amendments.”

“I think we need to see and measure the results,” Baldwin told The N&O. “We will look at the results. And our employees are responsible for their actions.”

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Aaron Sanchez-Guerra is a breaking news reporter for The News & Observer and previously covered business and real estate for the paper. His experience includes reporting for public media outlet WLRN in Miami and as a freelance journalist in Raleigh and Charlotte covering Latino communities. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, a native speaker of Spanish and born in Mexico. You can follow his work on Twitter at @aaronsguerra.

Raleigh police’s new de-escalation policy faces criticism

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