Protocols and perception evolve, panelists say.
By Karenna Reyna
Police training teaches officers to use verbal and other non-violent tactics before resorting to physical force when subduing suspects, three criminal justice experts said during a panel discussion Feb. 10 in Loftin Student Center.
Tiffany Cox, criminal justice coordinator, organized “Police Use of Force” as part of Black History Month on this campus. The panel discussed officer-involved deaths like Michael Brown’s last year in Ferguson, Mo.
The three panelists, who have decades of experience in policing, prosecution and defense, discussed procedures and how they are handled.
“You may have standards, you may have procedures, but the things that happen on the street happen very fast,” local attorney Cornelius Cox (no relation to Tiffany Cox) said about following protocols straight from the book.
Cornelius Cox has a law degree from Howard University, was a prosecutor for many years in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and is a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio.
Oscar Ruiz, a peace officer since 1976, has worked as a deputy sheriff and constable in South Texas for more than 11 years. He said law enforcement training is different nowadays.
Use-of-force policies have been modified throughout the years, he said. Officers now must start with verbal strategies to defuse the situation, although it depends on the nature of the call and the danger of the situation, he said.
“We have come a long way; now it is mandatory that all patrol officers have a dash camera,” Ruiz said. “They no longer can hide any evidence, they have to treat everyone the same and it is all recorded.”
Cornelius Cox opened the discussion by asking the audience if anyone has felt they have been stopped by a police officer without a good reason. Many raised their hand. He explained everyday experiences influence people’s judgments on what will happen to them when confronted by an officer.
Cox himself was stopped once by a Miami police officer who suspected Cox’s car was involved in a robbery. The officer searched his car, placed him against a wall and detained him for 45 minutes.
He said he felt there was no reason he should have been stopped. Incidents like this happen every day, he said.
“What is reasonable?” he asked, referring to police’s behavior with suspects and citizens. Mistreatment of citizens should never take place, and being mindful of the situation will help reduce the chances, he said.
Local attorney Dexter Gilford agreed.
“Most agencies follow a use-of-force continuum approach — that is, there is a preference that force should be used from the least intrusive means to the most intrusive means,” Gilford said.
Gilford served as a prosecutor for Bexar County for two years, and has been in private practice for more than 18 years, working on defense and capital murder cases. He is a full-time adjunct in this college’s criminal justice department.