Sahuarita Police Chief John Noland answered questions about the current state of policing in the context of what’s happening nationally.
Q. There is widespread talk of defunding or dismantling police departments. What do those terms mean to you?
A: This is a complex question. Like most chiefs and sheriffs I’ve been watching and evaluating as different persons, groups, and organizations try and define what “Defund the Police” actually means. Many elected officials across the nation along with individuals and organizations have provided their interpretations. It has become hyper political. Some have used the exact same phrase “Defund the Police” while others have more recently started using different phrases such as “Reform the Police” or “Re-train the Police” or “Reimagine Policing.”
However, while some are trying to redefine the phrase, some are still insisting the phrase means exactly what it states: to take funding away from police departments. Some communities want to completely abolish or re-train or redefine their police departments.
They want to redefine the actions police take and services the police provide. From the phrases and debates, it’s clear some communities mean they want policing to change.
What they collectively mean in the way of change differs among communities, groups, and individuals. It is often unclear, and many times is not realistic. Taking money from law enforcement agencies who are in serious need of that funding for a variety of reasons, to include having enough officers to provide services, training, equipment, etc., is not the answer. If officers need to be trained differently, then train them, but that requires funding.
I’ve watched as several communities have had record increases in serious crime, while some elected officials have directed or restricted policing efforts. We’ve witnessed arson, theft, assaults, homicide, and destruction of businesses, churches and much more. All while we were already negatively impacted by the pandemic. Now many businesses in these communities can no longer provide jobs, services, or goods to their community because they have been destroyed.
I’m thankful that our Sahuarita residents and the Town Council support the SPD. The SPD is dedicated to working with our community to make our town safe for all.
Q: Are these valid requests? What do you think those calling for this are driving at?
A: The tragic homicide of George Floyd was one of the reasons that started justified public demonstrations about what some former Minneapolis police officers did. Also, what they didn’t do, meaning intervene and promptly stop former Officer Chauvin. From that incident, and others where police responded poorly, as well as people and groups committing serious crimes in many cities, we now have our current state.
Different communities are asking for or demanding different kinds of change. It’s important that these communities have the correct conversations to facilitate any needed change. Some communities are seeking quality community policing that is fair and equal.
Police work and the enforcement of law can be very difficult. I believe some are driving for change because change is needed in some departments. Some are driving for unrealistic change that will only further harm communities. Yes, there are cops that should not be cops and law enforcement leaders should be addressing those cases. I’ve been in this line of work for over 35 years and worked in multiple jurisdictions and states. I believe the vast majority of officers are good, understand the different cultures and issues in their communities and serve with honor.
Q: Much of the conversation surrounds community policing and dealing with mental health situations. Are these priorities for SPD and what resources, training and budget are put toward them?
A: Yes, these are priorities for the SPD. The SPD provides direction and training in community policing and on how to deal with those experiencing mental health issues. The SPD was doing some community policing before I was hired. When I arrived, we examined what we were doing and have significantly added to our efforts over the last several years. I’ve listed some of the elements of our community policing program along with training and expectations for dealing with those who may be experiencing a mental health issue.
•Officers are assigned to specific beats to better know and serve those that live and work in that geographical area.
•Community policing issues are assigned to and tracked by officers and sergeants. We refer to the different neighborhood issues as Neighborhood Oriented Policing (NOP) projects. The issues can range from serious to less serious incidents such as, but not limited to thefts, vandalism, and traffic complaints. We work to address them by having officers on different shifts be aware of the issue(s) so they can be addressed 24/7.
•Part of our community policing efforts include being active in community events, sometimes as security and other times participating or even hosting events. You’ll find officers at the majority of our public events interacting in a constructive manner with the public. Please refer to our annual report for information on our community interaction.
•We strive to have all our officers attend mental health Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). While several of our officers have already had CIT training we’ve recently reached out to organizations to provide additional training in this area.
•We have policy and practices to assure officers recognize and provide mental health services when people need them. Our policy makes it mandatory that those who may be a danger to themselves or others get immediate assistance. Additionally, we regularly provide assistance by providing standby services as well as some transportation for those who may be in need of immediate mental health assistance at a facility.
•I don’t have numbers at this time to report as to how much of our training or other budget lines are used in these two areas (community policing and mental health).
Q: We don’t directly experience the racial upheaval the rest of the nation has, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do locally. How has the department addressed race- related questions — through training, recruiting, community outreach?
A: I’m not sure what you mean by race-related questions. However, our department serves a fairly diverse community and the SPD is also diverse. Separate from this diversity, employees are held to the expectation that we treat all people equally. No employee is to let ethnicity or any other protected status impact decisions or determine how we serve people. One in need of police services is not always going to get someone that looks or thinks like them. Officers must have the intelligence, compassion and ability to work with all types of persons. Our code of ethics, policy, and training emphasizes treating people equally. Annual employee evaluations include a key element on how well employees of all backgrounds interact and treat others.
Q: What changes have been made in law enforcement over the past 30 years to better position departments to meet the growing challenges of policing?
This is broad question and I could write about changes in law enforcement for a really long time. The amount of training that officers complete increases pretty much each year. Academies and Field Training Programs are longer. I advised that I would send you a copy of our annual report (2019) and that it would touch on some of your questions. (Report attached.) In that report, I mention that a significant part of my job is to provide officers with quality training, quality equipment, and clear policy, along with the expectation that they follow policy and make good
decisions. I also mention in the report that we are a learning organization and therefore, a training department. We spend a lot of time and resources training our staff on a wide variety of skill sets. Please refer to our annual report for further information associated with your questions.
A consistent push over the last 20-plus years has been for police departments to fully adopt Community Policing that fits their community. I believe most law enforcement agencies are practicing at least some level of community policing. Some do it better than others. A police department can practice really good Community Policing and the community may still experience problems. Community Policing does not make a community completely problem free. A significant part of Community Policing is about the police department having good relationships with their community, different neighborhoods, organizations, and businesses. Community policing is also about problem solving and using community relationships to allow input and identifying resources to help solve problems. Sometimes Community Policing is referring those experiencing a problem to an appropriate resource.
Q: How does the pushback against police brutality resonate with you? Some believe there are systemic, fundamental problems that keep police from being held accountable for acts of brutality, others believe officers have had their hands tied by an overreaction to isolated events. What do you think might be a solution to the accountability question, or is there not an issue?
A: If officers are using excessive force, they should be held accountable to include prosecution when warranted. Law enforcement agencies with systemic problems need to recognize and promptly correct the problems. Some law enforcement agencies have been held accountable for systemic problems such as excessive force or targeting specific groups of people. Departments found to have done wrong have experienced dissent decrees and other remedies.
Some police departments have challenges and others may have significant problems. We have a legal justice system that can hold law enforcement and the public accountable. It does not work perfectly, but I’m not aware of anything that works perfectly. The plus and minus of our justice system is that it involves people. People are not infallible, but it is people who practice non-biased decision making in the different parts of our justice system, to include policing, that provides reasonable perspective, interpretation, and compassion. Much more often than not, cops and the public, do the right thing.