SIUE community examines police practices following protests

As police departments are changing their policies in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the SIUE Police Department said they already practice many of the precautions other departments are just now enacting.

According to Kevin Schmoll, SIUE police chief, such practices include banning chokeholds and addressing excessive force. Schmoll said the department made many changes following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

“Everything that you see in the news that they’re wanting police departments across the country to make, we already had those in place years ago, really after Ferguson back in 2014. The Ferguson incident is when those changes were made,” Schmoll said. “We don’t have any chokeholds, can’t do that per our policy, and other ones are already in place.”

According to Schmoll, SIUE Police use a system called Lexipol to ensure the integrity of its policies. Lexipol’s website states that it provides customizable, state-specific policies and online learning content that is available at all times through in-vehicle computers or smartphones.

“Lexipol’s a company that helps you write policies and make sure they’re good, and they cover all the laws and everything,” Schmoll said.

Schmoll also said SIUE officers undergo many different types of training.

“We have implicit bias training, de-escalation technique training, use of force training, I mean I could go on, diversity training,” Schmoll said.

Trish Oberweis, a criminal justice professor, said these policies are helpful, but not always enough.

“I’m not necessarily of the mind that one hour or three hours of bias training a year is enough to sort of get at the big issue, but every little bit helps,” Oberweis said.

Oberweis also said many of the changes that need to be made are bigger than individual police departments.

“Historically, one of the sources of racial bias in the criminal justice system for the last 40 years, 50 years, has been the war on drugs. The chief here of SIUE has no control over the war on drugs,” Oberweis said. “The university has policies, the state has policies, the nation has policies, and these just aren’t things that the chief himself can do much to address.”

According to Oberweis, the racial disparity in the criminal justice system has long been noted by academia, but has not been reflected in policy-making.

“The advocacy has been there, the knowledge has been there or the research focus has been there, but the actual connection to policy-making has not,” Oberweis said.

After the death of George Floyd, many activists are protesting for a change in police policy-making. Schmoll said SIUE Police has not assisted at any local protests because they have been peaceful.

“Everything was peaceful. Everything went the way it was supposed to go, so we didn’t have to send any officers, kept them all on our campus, which is good,” Schmoll said.

Emily Love, a sociology graduate student from Collinsville, Illinois, has been to a few protests in Edwardsville and said the lack of a police presence showed community trust.

“I think there’s something really powerful about the protests being allowed without police presence. I think that shows trust within the community, so I think that’s really powerful,” Love said. “I think sometimes police presence itself can be something that escalates.”

Love also said she believes there are a number of ways policing can be improved across college campuses.

“I think that the policies matter, but I also think that research needs to be done to better understand which policies matter, and I think training just needs to be different,” Love said. “It needs to be demilitarized and … I think representation matters a lot.”

Garrett Milligan, a senior psychology major from Troy, Illinois, attended a protest in Collinsville, Illinois. He said there were just a few police officers along the way to make sure everything went smoothly, which is how he said he thinks it should be as long as police are not brutalizing peaceful protesters.

“I think it depends on how police are going to react to the actual protest, but if there are a couple officers and they’re not hindering the protest and just there to make sure everything runs smoothly, I think that’s good,” Milligan said. “And even better if maybe an officer joins in with the dialogue of the peaceful protest and is speaking with some of the Black leaders, because I think that can be a really beneficial process toward change.”

Criminal Justice Professor Matthew Petrocelli, a former military officer and criminal investigator, said police have developed a war-like mentality that is the opposite of de-escalation.

“We’re fighting a war on drugs, we’re fighting a war on crime, we’re fighting a war on this, we’re fighting a war on that. So police find themselves in, by way of their training and by what they’re being told to do, their conclusion is, ‘Well, I’m a warrior.’ Now, what do warriors do? Warriors aggressively control situations, warriors fight, warriors do not back down,” Petrocelli said.

Petrocelli said the course of action should be to demilitarize the police.

“We need to radically move away from this paramilitary model, and we need to move toward a model that emphasizes restraint, control and de-escalation, absolutely,” Petrocelli said.

According to Petrocelli, one way to change policing is to invest in the training police officers need.

“We have not been spending the time and certainly the money on investing in the training that police officers need,” Petrocelli said. “And that is proper use of force, restraint, that is absolutely implicit bias training and certainly, very, very importantly, emphasizing de-escalation over aggression.”

To learn more about the SIUE Police Department, visit their website.

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