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Police train, tweak one year after Floyd death

News File Photo A police officer responds to an Alpena County crash last year.

ALPENA — In the year since a killing by a Minnesota police officer sparked public outrage, local police agencies have tweaked some policies and continued training officers in when and how to use force, police leaders say.

On Tuesday — the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — Michigan lawmakers introduced bills calling for reforms to police use of force, de-escalation techniques, and transparency.

Some of the changes proposed Tuesday are already in the works at Alpena police agencies, according to Alpena County Sheriff Steven Kieliszewski.

A federal directive, issued in June, ordered Michigan police agencies to make some changes to policies regarding physical altercations.

Those policies had to be updated by January for agencies to be considered for federal funding, Kieliszewski said.

The Alpena County Sheriff’s Office has revised its policies regarding chokeholds, de-escalation practices, no-knock warrants — which Kieliszewski said his officers don’t use anyway — and officer intervention when another officer is using excessive force. The policies apply to corrections officers at the Alpena County Jail, as well.

The bills introduced Tuesday call for mandated police training in implicit bias and de-escalation techniques. While police academy students must receive that training, no such requirements exist for Michigan police officers in the field, according to Joseph Kempa, spokesman for the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which oversees police training.

Agencies must provide some training each year but can choose what topics to address, Kempa said.

With potential requirements still in limbo, Kieliszewski hasn’t mandated any changes in training requirements, but staff did receive anti-bias training in the past year, the sheriff said.

In 2020, because of COVID-19-related restrictions, deputies had to attend training online — a practice the agency might continue post-pandemic, saving the county money and keeping officers on the road, Alpena County Undersheriff Erik Smith said.

Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett said in an email that all officers of the Alpena Police Department are trained regularly in proper application of force, de-escalation, and the duty to intervene.

“Your mouth is the best weapon you have,” 1st Lt. John Grimshaw, commander of the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post, tells troopers.

Recently, however, with people less willing to follow police orders, it’s harder for officers to defuse a situation without having to resort to force, Grimshaw said.

Current anti-police sentiments have made it harder to find qualified officers because people are unwilling to go into the profession — a situation that puts the community at risk, he said.

“You don’t want the worst person being the police officer,” Grimshaw said. “You want the best people to be out there protecting you.”

The current attention toward police use of force is not undeserved, Grimshaw said, given the killing of Floyd — an incident Grimshaw said no good police officer would condone.

“But, the reaction that every police officer is out there to kill someone — that’s not the truth,” Grimshaw said.

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