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PARB Awaiting State Guidance To Inform Use Of Force Policy Changes
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
01:31AM / Monday, September 28, 2020
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Police Advisory and Review Board issued a statement reaffirming the current use of force policy while it awaits state guidance on the subject.
 
The board voted last week to issue a statement that essentially mirrored current policy that states maneuvers designed to reduce blood or airflow are not authorized or trained by the department.
 
"I think saying something in the interim would be good and would let the public know that we have concerns about this," Chairwoman Ellen Maxon said. 
 
Through the summer, the board has discussed possible changes to the Police Department's Use of Force policy, specifically eliminating neck restraints.
 
Police Chief Michael Wynn has indicated at past meetings that he was unaware of any department that trained restraints that cut off airflow. He said, although not taught in Massachusetts, some departments do train vascular restraints. 
 
Wynn said the department in 2018 struck these restraints from the department's books. He said he was hesitant to return the restraints to the policy at all, even if they just planned to ban them.
 
"I am having difficulties putting language addressing this back into the policy and letting the genie out of the bottle I thought we capped in 2018," he said. "But I understand the current climate. We have to put something out there."
 
Wynn said the department made these changes because it could not properly train vascular restraints. Although Wynn said he could teach this, there was not enough time or resources to properly and safely train officers.
 
"So I don't want someone to go to the academy and learn something that took me 40 hours of instruction to get a basic understanding of," Wynn said. "And 15 years of practice outside of law enforcement to gain competency."
 
The chief said there are issues with outright banning the maneuver, and it could create a liability for the department through an ineffective policy. If an officer uses such restraint but can prove that the use of the maneuver was "objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances" then they would have a defense against the department's ruling.
 
He said an officer may have been trained in these maneuvers in the past. For example, if the department hired a former Marine, they would likely be trained in these restraints. If they were to use them to save their life or someone else's, a department ban probably would not hold up in court. 
 
Maxon agreed that even mentioning the restraints in the policy could "open the door," but she felt the board had to take some action with so many community groups awaiting some sort of action from the department.
 
But there was a hesitancy to really say anything among the board members without any information from the state. 
 
The state has yet to make a ruling on whether to outright ban these holds or move them to the highest level of force.
 
"I am not opposed to it but in some ways, it is moot if the legislature makes the decision," board member Michael Feldberg said. "It ties our hands." 
 
Wynn said if the department decided to ban these restraints, but the state opted to reclassify them, the city's policy change would be ineffective.  
 
He thought it was best to wait before entertaining any policy changes 
 
"I don't want to kick this can down the road, and I want to solve this. But I am struggling with this," Wynn said. "If the legislature moves it to deadly force ... it just makes sense to mirror it. If they prohibit it altogether, same thing." 
 
Wynn said it was unknown when they would have this information from the state.
 
"There is no time table of when it will come out," he said. "It could be tomorrow, next month or next session."
 
He added that even state policy challenges could be challenged at the federal level.
 
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