Our View: Training, patience makes all the difference in crises

April 6, 2018 GMT

“You can’t really be a cowboy in law enforcement anymore,” said Rochester Police Lt. Frank Ohm.

Thankfully, he’s right. In today’s world of smartphone cams and social media, when a police officer mistreats someone, we generally hear about it. News of injustice travels fast, and the public is increasingly intolerant of abuses of power, as in cases such as the shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, Calif., last week.

When officers do their jobs well, however, with professionalism, patience and restraint, the silence is deafening. It makes sense; after all, who calls a press conference to announce that everyone simply did their job well that day?

That’s where we come in.

Last year, the Minnesota Legislature provdied $6 million to make sure that law enforcement officers statewide would have access to crisis intervention training, which focuses heavily on de-escalation tactics, a crucial skill in modern policing, one that can reduce use-of-force incidents.

Post Bulletin reporter Taylor Nachtigal’s story Saturday regarding area officers undergoing crisic intervention training contained information we think bears repeating: Olmsted County has been training officers in crisis intervention techniques for 11 years and has the only self-sustaining program in the state. This stemmed from county social services noting a growing number of people with mental health problems winding up in jail.

It must be a regional thing, because Rochester police also seem ahead of the curve on crisis intervention policies as well. RPD requires that officers receive eight hours of training per year on use-of-force tactics and 40 hours on crisis intervention, which teaches verbal techniques for calming someone in crisis.

As instances of mental health, drug addiction, and other crises skyrocket, these are skills officers increasingly rely on.

“Rochester is incredibly lucky to have had a police chief that grew to understand some of these issues. What you see a lot of times in police departments that have a lot of civil rights complaints, it has to do with the culture of that department and that culture is generally created by leadership,” said Kamau Wilkins, president of Rochester for Justice, a group whose mission is to bring about racial justice and awareness. Police Chief Roger Peterson “has understood that the use of force is something that should only be used when absolutely necessary,” he said.

Police Sgt. Leslie Kenyon said, “I can think of some guys on our shift that are my height, 5 feet 2 inches, maybe a little taller, and older. Not in the best of physical shape, but I will send that guy in any time to talk to somebody, because I know if he can’t talk that person out of a situation, then probably nobody else can,” Sgt. Leslie Kenyon. ”He’s going to be our best chance to resolve it peacefully without using force.”

The department also takes excessive force violations seriously. Its internal review process is far from toothless: look no further than the recent firing of former police officer Jeffery Stobbs for excessive force violations for proof.

From Peterson on down, the department says it fosters a culture that encourages officers to take their time.

“We’re okay with officers taking the necessary time to not rush something,” said Ohm.

“Just having a department mindset of patience and letting the officers do their job in their way, safely, is really helpful,” said Sgt. Leslie Kenyon.

Wilkins cautions that Rochester is not “free of civil rights abuses, or free of excessive use of force, but I believe that part of that is that when the leadership and the training is based on the principle of ‘we are only going to use force when absolutely necessary,’ that creates a different dynamic between citizens and police officers.”

With Peterson’s last day coming up on April 25, and three candidates to replace him interviewed last night, we hope that legacy continues.