CHEYENNE – Lying facedown on the ground in the middle of the Cheyenne Public Safety Center community room, an officer demonstrates ways the Cheyenne Police Department restrains someone.
As the two officers go through the demonstration, the person who’s lying down has his arm raised straight out behind his back as the other officer uses his knees to put his weight on his upper and lower back.
But never on his neck.
It’s against CPD policy to use neck restraint on a person who is being arrested – unlike what happened with the Minneapolis Police Department, where Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck until he died.
In light of Floyd’s murder and the nationwide protests, Cheyenne Police held a community meeting Thursday evening to explain its use-of-force policies and accountability measures to community members. They also heard some concerns from community members about policing.
The meeting lasted more than two hours, but Police Chief Brian Kozak said it likely wouldn’t be the last. During the meeting, some people who tried to attend had to be turned away due to social distancing and group gathering limitations because of COVID-19.
A group that was turned away later went to protest on a street corner with signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “Say their names.”
“I can tell you that when I saw the video, I was sickened and shocked, probably like most of you were. In fact, talking to each and every police officer in our police agency, they all had the same reaction, as well,” Kozak said. “So when you look at that video, the things that affected us as police officers is that you have Mr. Floyd who is on the ground. And you have the police officer with his knee in his neck. Now, let’s talk about the knee and neck situation. Do you think that is an acceptable practice – a knee in the neck?”
The crowd resoundingly shouted back “No!” at Kozak.
“Now, when you look at the video, and you’re right, there becomes a point where someone’s handcuffed and they become compliant, which you can tell Mr. Floyd was compliant. He was not resisting any longer. And so the reasonableness ... and every police officer will agree 100% with this ... is why keep applying that force?”
Kozak said it’s apparent when it’s brought to the officer’s attention, “You can tell in the video he has an attitude like, ‘I don’t give a shit. I’m a cop. I’m doing it. You can’t do anything about it.’”
Kozak asked the crowd to raise their hands if that pissed them off, and every person in the room lifted their hands. In fact, Kozak said he just got a call the other day from the Minneapolis Police Department, and they asked him about a device called a WRAP that CPD uses to safely restrain people.
The WRAP is a device that buckles over a person’s legs and then connects straps to their torso to prevent movement. The WRAP is designed in a way so it doesn’t inhibit breathing and can also be used to make sure medical personnel can properly examine and treat someone who is being arrested.
A way to prevent what happened in Minneapolis is to make sure officers have the training they need, and to look at the culture and hiring practices of a department.
Despite the emphasis on the importance of training, CPD’s officer training budget was drastically cut this year amid budget talks. The budget cuts come amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when all city departments are having to look at areas to cut back due to financial constraints.
The current proposed budget is $334 per officer for training, which is drastically lower than the $1,330 average spent nationwide per officer.
“We will continue with the same training that we’ve done in the past,” Kozak said. “What I’m worried about is we may miss new and innovative things, new techniques, new concerns. What we’ve done in the past will send, like, Sgt. (James) Peterson to the use-of-force seminar back East, and he learns stuff and he brings it back, and he adjusts our training program to reflect best practices. So we’re going to lose that.”
Kozak said the department will continue to train they way they’ve done, and it’ll work temporarily, but hopefully as the city recovers, the department will get its training budget back.
“So, for example, you heard from the community they really want to see more bias training in the police department,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of local expertise, so we’d have to bring someone in to do that, and that costs money. Obviously, we can’t do that type of training unless we can find some local expert, so that’s where we’re hurting. We’re not really meeting the needs that the community wants us to do because of the lack of funding. It’s something we’ll try to catch up on once we get the funding.”
As Kozak and police officers went on to describe their use-of-force and accountability training efforts at the department, some community members raised their hands with questions. Most didn’t really want to see the demonstrations by police, but instead wanted an opportunity to express their fears, feelings and frustrations to CPD.
“We think the turnout, both in general and in terms of black people, was excellent, and we are definitely, like, it’s a sign that we’re looking for that – we’re ready to push the conversation further and maybe look at some other forms of engaging law enforcement and dialogue with the black community,” attendee Ambreia Meadows-Fernandez said.
For this to be the first event like this on such short notice, they’re satisfied with what they saw, but it’s always a reminder that more can be done.
Jalissa Fletcher added that she thinks the community came to the meeting thinking it would be one thing because of the way it was advertised, but it turned out to be another. For this reason, there was a lot of emotional tension and conflict.
Meadows-Fernandez said what could be done differently in the future is to make sure there is a very clear line about what the expectation of the space is.
“I think there’s more there still needs to be done,” Dominic Thornton said. “However, it was good to know the procedures and how this local law enforcement Cheyenne has does business. So it was good for us to know the procedures and how they use their use of force and their training. That way, the whole community is aware of what’s going on.”
Thornton said he wished they would have talked more about racial profiling, people being apprehended for no reason and the deaths occurring around the country.
“I think the police department and everyone involved did a good job of allowing the public to voice our opinions,” Cleyton Bauer said. “It did seem at first that they didn’t let us express our emotions as much as we would like to. Things did get a little heated, but that’s expected. I appreciate everything that they’ve done and in letting us communicate. I feel like there are more logical than they have been emotional.”
He said showing numbers and statistics aren’t going to be the end of it. He said people need to realize the community is afraid and does need emotional support.
“As people can notice there is a huge gap and diversity in the police force. It is what it is. It’s Wyoming. There’s not a lot of minorities here. So the racial diversity training would be great, as well as understand that being a part of any minority group, you’re going to have a little bit of fear with the police, no matter what. It’s just comes with the fact of the history of America.”