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POLICE EXECUTIVE RESEARCH FORUM ISSUES REPORT ON REVIEW OF VCSO DEPUTY-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS
Update: The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has completed its review of use of force policies, procedures, training and case files at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. The report, which includes a summary of findings as well as several recommendations, has been posted in full on the VCSO website (click here to access it).
Several of PERF’s recommendations for the agency have already been implemented – from new policy language to adjustments to deputy training. In its report, PERF noted that VCSO is committed to fully integrating progressive changes to improve the practices and organizational culture of the agency. Specifically, the agency has taken steps to encourage a view of law enforcement officers as guardians of the community. Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who requested the review soon after he took office in 2017, said the report's recommendations were about smart policing.
"As guardians who have a high value for the sanctity of human life, we want to do everything we can to create an environment where our deputies go home safely and the subject of a call has the opportunity to either go to jail or go get medical treatment in a safe environment," Sheriff Chitwood said Monday.
PERF examined 15 VCSO deputy-involved shootings that occurred between January 2014 and June 15, 2017 (when the review began). Of those 15 cases, 11 of them ended in a subject being struck, and 10 were fatal. In 13 cases, the person either had a firearm or was attempting to gain possession of one. In six cases, the person fired at deputies. In 13 cases, the subject involved was a white male. One case involved an Hispanic male, and one case involved an unknown subject (the deputy did not have a clearly identified target and was firing in the general direction of a threat).
Several incidents involved a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol (9 cases) or experiencing a mental health crisis (3 cases), which PERF identified as evidence of opportunity for increased focus on crisis intervention and de-escalation:
“The finding that many of VCSO’s DIS cases involve subjects who are in crisis, presents a significant opportunity for the department. The potential for deadly force in these types of cases can be greatly reduced when deputies are trained in crisis intervention, when they engage in communication with the subject, and when they are taught to slow down and wait for additional resources. Even though the majority of DIS case files involved a subject armed with a firearm, PERF believes VCSO should invest in training to assist deputies when encountering a subject who is in mental health crisis or chemically impaired, but who does not pose an immediate threat.”
Other PERF recommendations included strengthening and expediting Internal Affairs investigations of deputy-involved shootings, and expanding the focus of those investigations to determine not only if any misconduct occurred, but whether there might have been a better way to respond to the incident. This was described as similar to the approach taken by the National Transportation Safety Board when it investigates a civil aviation accident. PERF noted “this type of review may sometimes reveal that a shooting incident might have been avoided with better policies or training. This outcome can benefit the deputies, the Sheriff’s Office, and the community as a whole. VCSO has implemented a Critical Incident Review Panel to address these recommendations.”
PERF additionally recommended publishing VCSO’s entire use-of-force policy on the agency’s website, along with an annual use-of-force report. These changes are underway, with updated policy documents to be made available online after they are finalized in coordination with the bargaining unit that represents VCSO deputies.
The $92,321 study was funded with money confiscated in criminal cases and approved by the Volusia County Council in May 2017.
May 4, 2017
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.
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