Three police chiefs of local departments gathered at The Athena Cinema Tuesday night to answer questions regarding their policies, racial bias and the arrest of Ty Bealer.
The Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle, Ohio University Police Department Chief Andrew Powers and Hocking College Police Department Chief Tiffany Tims sat on stage during the Ask the Chiefs event, a public forum held by the Joint Police Advisory Council for Athens residents, to answer questions from attendees.
JPAC also partnered with the Ohio University's Division of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the Black Student Cultural Programming Board, the NAACP at OU, the Black Student Union and the National Pan-Hellenic Council to hold the forum.
Tims said she came because she wanted to support Pyle and Powers. She said they personally reached out to her after an incident during her time as the interim chief of police in which a Nelsonville Police Department officer harassed her.
“I'm standing here because I want them here because I want to be here, because I represent a body of individuals who look like me every day,” Tims said. “So I'm here for help. I'm here to help the community. I have students that come into Athens. So that's what I'm here for.”
Pyle began the discussion by clarifying what he said at the city’s emergency press conference following Bealer’s arrest.
“I really underestimated the impact of social media on situations like this,” Pyle said. “I've received a ton of criticism for the statements that I made and I take it all to heart, I own that and I'm responsible for it and I do apologize to anyone that felt slighted by my words. It certainly wasn't my intention.”
He said though he believes that the arrest was not racially motivated, in the sense that the officers arrested Bealer based solely on his race, he now understands that race plays a role in any interaction between a police officer and a person of color.
“I never heard it put quite that way to me,” Pyle said. “That there is an issue of race with every interaction. And it's those preconceived notions that are based on race that people are bringing to the interaction, not necessarily the action, in and of itself for that specific instance.”
Applicants for both APD and OUPD must undergo a psychological examination that is “extremely in-depth,” which is meant to identify people with biases before they are hired, Powers said.
“I don't believe that we can just train people to overcome that kind of mindset, that's who they are … however much training isn't going to get rid of that,” Powers said. “So I think it starts by recruiting the right people, it then continues with training.”
APD is now holding “special topic training,” which includes facets of cultural diversity, racial sensitivity and racial equity, though the last training that was mandatory for the whole department was held in 2012, Pyle said.
There have been at least 269 use of force incidents in Athens since 2007, Pyle said. APD has not received any formal complaints specifically about its use of force. A use of force report is written for any force used beyond the normal application of handcuffs, Pyle said.
When asked about Ethan Doerr, the APD officer who arrested Bealer and who is currently being sued for alleged excessive use of force, Pyle explained that there is a difference between an official complaint and a lawsuit.
“Lawsuits … may not necessarily have to do with policy violations (but) have more to do with the outcome of a specific use of force,” Pyle said. “I’ve been sued … I'm guessing these two officers have been too. It's not a policy violations issue, because that has more to do about civil processes and obviously money than it does about policy violations and things like that.”
In response to questions about the need for multiple officers to arrest Bealer, both Pyle and Powers said having three officers make an arrest is common in situations that require the use of force. Commonly, one officer will hold the legs of a person, another will hold the head of a person and a third will apply the handcuffs, Powers said.
“You actually reduce … the risk of injury by holding their head down and still, rather than (allow that) they can move around,” Pyle said. “But we need to control that person.”
Pyle, Powers and Tims all agreed that more steps need to be made toward recruiting people of color to join their departments.
“The culture is different … and caucasians truly don’t understand,” Tims said. “It’s about respect. It’s about, have you walked the same path that I had, and it’s about the approach, and I teach my officers one-on-one how to interact when a situation has escalated.”
Both APD and OUPD do not have any black officers on staff.
The chiefs also agreed that their departments need to hold continuous training, be more active and approachable in the community and continue the dialogue between the police and Athens residents.
“We need more opportunities to bridge communication gaps. We need more opportunities to interact with minority communities outside of traditional police roles,” Pyle said. “That's the only way we're going to take responsibility for creating those opportunities as well.”
Michael Riojas also contributed to the report.