SHERIFF CHITWOOD LAUNCHES USE OF FORCE STUDY
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood came into office in January promising a fresh approach and a fresh look at the inner workings of the Sheriff’s Office. And that review includes one of the most significant issues for any law enforcement agency: how its officers are trained and equipped to handle situations that involve the use of force -- sometimes deadly force.
On Thursday, an extensive, independent review of the Sheriff’s Office’s use of force procedures was green-lighted by the Volusia County Council. The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) was requested by Sheriff Chitwood to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office’s use of force procedures, tactics and training are in keeping with the best law enforcement standards and practices in the nation. With the $92,321 for the study coming from money confiscated in criminal cases, the County Council heartily endorsed the proposal. “I think it’s a very good, proactive approach,” said Council member Deb Denys. Added Council member Joyce Cusack: “I strongly support it.”
Under the contract approved Thursday, PERF will review the Sheriff’s Office’s use of force policies, procedures, tactics, techniques and training. As part of the review, PERF will take a look at all of the Sheriff’s Office’s deputy-involved shootings for the last three years. They also will review training that the agency provides deputies in crisis intervention and de-escalation strategies. The study, tentatively scheduled to be completed in February, will compare the Sheriff’s Office’s procedures with national standards and make recommendations for improvements if needed. PERF is a non-profit, police research and policy organization that provides technical assistance and consulting services to law enforcement agencies.
Sheriff Chitwood made it clear that PERF isn’t being brought in to scrutinize or second-guess deputies in the way they’ve handled prior incidents. And he also said the study shouldn’t be seen as an acknowledgment that anything’s wrong. But he said it’s always healthy to have outsiders review policies and procedures and look for ways to improve as an agency and stay ahead of national trends. According to language in the contract, the stated goal of the project is to ensure that the Sheriff’s Office’s use of force policies are aligned with progressive practices and national standards and are sufficient to provide deputies with a clear understanding of the rules, regulations and expectations related to the use of force. “It’s important that we make sure that our training, our tactics, our equipment and policies and procedures are up to national standards,” Sheriff Chitwood told the Council. “At the end of this study, I’m hopeful that what we put out is going to make our deputies safer and our community safer.”
Before voting Thursday, Council members allayed any concerns about the potential for the study to be used against the county if it recommends changes in Sheriff’s Office procedures. Those concerns were put to rest by County Attorney Dan Eckert, who said the legal system would look favorably upon any improvements in procedures or practices that might be implemented as a result of the study. And Sheriff Chitwood said the county is being progressive and proactive in embracing the study. “We support the Sheriff’s aim,” Eckert told Council members. “That you’ve done things one way doesn’t mean that you can’t do it better in the future. The law favors that approach,” said Eckert.
With their questions answered, Council members moved forward with a unanimous vote of approval. “I sincerely back the Sheriff’s Office and the things that you’re doing,” said Council member Heather Post.
Administrative offices: West Volusia 386-736-5961 Daytona Beach 386-254-4689 New Smyrna Beach 386-423-3352
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