CHESHIRE — Since the death of George Floyd on March 25 under the knee of Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin, protests have sprung up in virtually every major city in the United States, calling for a review of law enforcement standards and police conduct across the board.
Police Chief Neil Dryfe has been paying attention to the national conversation and believes the road ahead for many law enforcement agencies will change as a result of the civil discourse.
“What I have done is review our policies regarding the use of force,” said Dryfe. “I believe I took the opportunity to strengthen it. But any real change that might come would have to be implemented at the state level.”
Dryfe took the opportunity to explain that neck restraints, at least in his time as an officer, have never been part of Connecticut Police policy.
“No Connecticut police officer, at least in my time as an officer, has ever been taught or trained in neck restraint,” he said.
Many legislators have offered various policy initiatives aimed, they claim, at decreasing incidents of excessive police force. One idea that has gained some traction is that of a civilian review board to look at complaints against officers and cases in which excessive force may have been used.
Dryfe, who used to work in Hartford prior to his arrival in Cheshire, is skeptical about the implementation of such boards.
“The devil is really in the details,” he said. “I have been a police officer for over 30 years. I understand the apprehension of officers having their actions reviewed by people who don’t understand police work. There needs to be a training process, and those people need to have some sort of interaction with the job.”
Dryfe focused on video cameras, which played an important role in bringing attention to Floyd’s case.
“The George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks incidents are really rare,” he said. “It’s rare that you get footage of the entire event, from beginning to end.”
The Brooks incident occurred on June 12 in Atlanta, Georgia. Brooks was shot three times in the back as he ran away from police; there was an altercation immediately before the shooting where he had taken an officer’s taser in order to defend himself.
All Cheshire officers have body cameras, according to Dryfe, as well as dashboard cameras on patrol cars. Gov. Ned Lamont has also imposed a chokehold ban, a body camera mandate, and restrictions on military equipment utilized by police.
Another more radical solution would be to “defund the police,” which has gained popularity among some protestors. While some may call for a complete defunding of all law enforcement, many of its proponents have insisted that the initiative would instead look to divert a certain amount of funds that have initially gone towards the police department towards other local departments and employees, such as social workers, mental health professionals, and others.
“Of course there are things that our office does that could probably be done by someone else,” said Dryfe. “Maybe our officers are unable to navigate that, and possibly a mobile crisis team may help. But sometimes the situation proves to be tricky.”
While Dryfe sees the potential benefit of other service providers responding to a crisis, he is wary of that being floated as an alternative to officer engagement, as those service providers may not be available as often as police officers are.
“They would need to be available 24/7 like the officers are, and it would need to be done properly,” he explained. “There is lots of room for improvement, but I am also apprehensive (about) anything that seems like a perfect solution.”