Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correctly annotate that NC General Statutes do specifically address the use of deadly force.
New York banned chokeholds. Seattle required de-escalation training. Los Angeles restricted shooting at moving vehicles. But those reforms did not stop police from killing Eric Garner, Charleena Lyles or Ryan Twyman, who died when officers used the very tactics that the changes were supposed to prevent.
Activists say these realizations have created unprecedented momentum for law enforcement reform and some radical ideas like defunding and abolishing police.
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative non-profit think tank that focuses on domestic policy and urban affairs, notes there are good reasons to be skeptical of many of the most popular reforms being advanced. MI suggests that policy makers should consider police reforms aligned with recruiting, training, reliable data and the promotion of body worn cameras.
Up & Coming Weekly asked Fayetteville Chief of Police Gina V. Hawkins if department policy specifies that the use of deadly force is the last resort.
“The level of force used must be such that it is objectively reasonable and necessary,” she responded, noting that the use of force is detailed in North Carolina General Statute §15A-401. According to the Statute, use of deadly force is justified for a police officer to "defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly phsyical force ..." An officer may also use deadly force to "prevent the escape from custody of a person he reasonably believes is attempting to escape by means of a deadly weapon ..."
Hawkins said that “an officer has a duty to intervene to prevent or stop the use of excessive force by another officer when it is safe and reasonable to do so.”
In her written responses, Hawkins referred repeatedly to best practices without elaborating.
“I am heavily involved with the recruitment and hiring process, and in seeking the newest and most updated training that follows these best practices,” she said.
“Oversight, and following the best practices, ensures that we are developing an officer that is well rounded, professional, and constantly learning,” she added.
Mayor Mitch Colvin addressed the issue of police brutality in an Up & Coming Weekly opinion piece last week. “While our city has certainly had its problems with racial and social bias, to include aggressive policing in predominately Black communities, we have come a long way over the last 8 years,” Colvin wrote. The city began revamping its policing policies when former police chief Harold Medlock invited the U.S. Justice Department to evaluate the FPD in 2012/2013. “Many of the changes made were proactive and allowed us to get a head start on the necessary changes,” Colvin added.
He pointed out that the city established a Citizens Advisory Board to assist in building better relationships with law enforcement and the communities they serve. The mayor supports the FPD’s requirement that officers wear body cameras. The theory of using body cameras is that police officers will be less likely to commit misconduct if they understand their actions are being recorded. North Carolina state law requires that camera footage be made public only when ordered by a judge.
“By the time it goes through that judicial process, the trust is broken with the community,” Colvin said.
“Until governments invest in supporting communities rather than criminalizing and controlling them, the violence will not stop,” said John Raphling, senior U.S. criminal legal system researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Pictured Above: Poliece Chief Gina Hawkins interacts with children during a community engagement event. (Photo Courtesey Fayetteville Police Department).