Berlin Approves Police Changes

BERLIN – Town leaders approved changes related to use of force in the Berlin Police Department’s general orders this month.

The Berlin Town Council on Jan. 11 voted unanimously to approve a couple mandated changes to the police general order related to use of force. Police Chief Arnold Downing said the amendments had to be made if the department was to remain eligible for certain funds.

“If they were not put in we would actually have lost federal discretionary funds after Jan. 31,” Downing said.

Downing told the council there were two changes being proposed to the general order pertaining to use of force Monday. The first would be the addition of language that said that all federal, state and local laws will be followed. The second change related to chokeholds. The proposed change includes language that prohibits chokeholds except for when they’re used following established guidelines. Downing said that going forward, his department would be reviewing its overall use of force policy with its insurance carrier and its law enforcement representative. He added that state officials could mandate changes as well.

Council members didn’t question the amendments Downing outlined but did question the language in the general order relating to the use of pepper spray and electronic control devices (such as Tasers). Councilman Jay Knerr said the criteria for both appeared very similar.

Downing said that not all officers had both pepper spray and electronic control devices. He said the officer had to be trained with either option to carry it and even then often just chose one or the other.

“You have to look at it as a discretionary type thing,” he said. “A lot of times we use Mace more for crowds instead of individuals.”

He added that whatever the tool, the officer had to have been trained with it before he or she could carry it. Once they are trained, their preference often decides which they carry.

“If you try to put on everything that is available to you you’d be walking around with 102 pounds worth of equipment,” Downing said.  “Preference is going to be a big part of it. Most of our officers do not carry Mace on a regular basis.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the amendments to the general order regarding use of force.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.