Knoxville revising Police Use of Force policy, removes neck chokehold from approved responses

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knoxville Police Department’s Use of Force Policy is being updated to make it consistent with the 8 Can’t Wait campaign.

“This review is just one step in my commitment to take a comprehensive look at public safety in Knoxville,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said. ” This is not a one-way conversation. Our efforts must be intentional and include meaningful community input.

Mayor Kincannon originally announced a review of Knoxville Police use of force policies on June 4.

“KPD is a well-trained, professional and accredited police department that was already practicing the majority of the recommendations of the 8 Can’t Wait campaign. There were, however, areas where improvements were needed in the Use of Force policy and in the Code of Conduct.”

The biggest change KPD is removing the lateral vascular neck restraint, or bilateral neck restraint, as an approved response to resistance. The restraint is not considered a chokehold and does not restrict airflow when applied, according to the city. It was the only approved neck restraint previously allowed within the most recent KPD policy.

The KPD will also require officers to report instances when they intentionally point a firearm directly at a subject, even if the weapon is not fired.

Police Chief Eve Thomas says the new policies have now been distributed to every officer.

“I am proud of the work and attention that our Use of Force Committee devoted to this review,” she said. “As part of our accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, we are constantly reviewing and fine-tuning our policies to ensure they meet the highest possible standard.

“A tremendous amount of work over the years has gone into the continued evolution of the Use of Force policy in particular, which provided a good starting place for this review. We feel that these changes strengthen KPD policy and affirmatively address the concerns of the community.” 

In addition, clear, specific language requiring KPD employees to intervene in situations when an officer is using, or is about to use, force in violation of policy has been added to the KPD Code of Conduct and the department’s Use of ForcePolicy.

Any intervention to end excessive use of force is required to be reported to a
supervisor by the intervening member.

A full list of the changes and a link to the previous Code of Conduct is available on the City of Knoxville’s website.

Law Enforcement Innovation Center on reviewing policies

At the Law Enforcement Innovation Center, training in de-escalation and use of force are part of the regular schedule for a course. Law enforcement members from across the country come to East Tennessee to take some of the training courses offered.

Rick Scarbrough, the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Innovation Center says seeing the video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer made him “angry.”

Now, he says, he’s taken a step back and is listening to the community. He says departments that are reviewing their use of force policies, like KPD, are doing the right thing.

“One thing we need to do is engage with our community, try to find some common ground,” said Scarbrough, “To listen to the community, to listen to our peers, and try to come up with some solutions.”

Scarbrough says he’s spoken with other law enforcement leaders, both locally and across the country, and believes making the right changes now will make departments and communities stronger.

“This is an opportunity for us to improve when it comes to community engagement, to listen to our community leaders out there about not only what types of policing are available, but what types of policing do they really want,” said Scarbrough.

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