A Q&A on police tactics
Editor’s Note: After the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and protests that turned violent in many areas of the country, the News-Herald sat down on June 9 with then-Police Chief Thomas Bennett to talk about no-knock warrants, restraint and arrest techniques, riot control tactics and more. Also present were Deputy Chiefs J.D. “Danny” Buie, Alfred Chandler and Cassandra Garvin.
The next day, Bennett announced his retirement, and Chandler was announced as interim chief the day after that. After much consideration, we feel the interview is still newsworthy, as the policies discussed in the interview are still in force and Buie, Chandler and Garvin are still providing leadership for the department.
Bennett was provided most of the questions in advance, but a few evolved during the interview. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.
This is Part 2 of 3. Part 1 was published July 26; Part 3 will be published Aug. 2.
Are no-knock warrants, like what was used in the Breonna Taylor case, used by Suffolk Police Department?
Buie: Yes, we do no-knock warrants when they’re necessary to do. All of our warrants are on a case-by-case basis. When the affidavit is brought up to us to review, we look at all the things. We have a threat assessment matrix that tells us are there firearms in this residence, is there a history of use of firearms by the subjects in this residence or the target of the investigations, are there cameras there? Is there a real possibility that evidence will be destroyed if you don’t make immediate entry? All that’s taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis. We look at that threat assessment and see if it needs to be a no-knock warrant or a knock-and-announce warrant.
Define no-knock warrant for me.
Buie: We call them immediate entry warrants. We’re going to go to the house, we’re going to approach the front door, we’re going to breach the front door and then we’re going to start announcing our presence.
Bennett: Without warning. In this state when you do a routine search warrant you’re expected to knock and announce yourself. “Search warrant, Suffolk Police. Search warrant, Suffolk Police.” For a reasonable period of time — which is seconds — and then you go in. You have to balance that against giving people the opportunity to destroy evidence. No-knock, if you have probable cause to do that, would be you go up and hit it with the ram and go right in and not do that announcing. They’re very rare.
Is there a psychologist on staff?
Bennett: There is not a psychologist on staff. However, the city for all city departments has psychologists and counselors available at our need. Sometimes we recommend to officers or civilian personnel that they voluntarily consider going and getting some help. Sometimes what’s going on or what we see, we don’t want to make it voluntary, because we really believe they need help, and we mandate it.
We use a psychiatrist on this department. Every employee we hire has to go visit with the psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist has to test them to make sure they’re stable.
How many complaints would be needed before an officer is reviewed, suspended or fired?
Bennett: It kind of depends on what it is. It kind of depends on how much discipline they’ve had before and where they’re at on the continuum. Usually, we have a significant history of people having problems before we terminate them. And I’m not talking about 20 or 30 issues; I’m talking about a handful, maybe a few more. We’re very firm here on discipline. We are the strictest department in the city when it comes to discipline, and we should be. We have to hold our people to a higher standard than anybody else. We give our people the right to take away people’s liberty and to deprive them of their life if circumstances warrant it. We have to make sure our people are A-1 and the best we can possibly get, so that’s why we’re hard on them.
Is Suffolk Police Department reviewing policies in light of recent deaths?
Bennett: We’re an accredited police department. That requires us to have up-to-date policies that meet professional standards in policing. Every calendar year, we start over and we review all 200-and-some policies that we have, whether we think we need to or not. As a result of what has happened in the recent past, yes, we had a meeting this morning to discuss our use of force policy. We have just added a paragraph to our current use of force policy called “Duty to Intervene.” Essentially what that means is if a member of the department sees another member doing something inappropriate, or using excessive force or using force that isn’t appropriate, they have a duty to stop it by whatever means necessary. What just happened in Minneapolis, it’s real simple to us that’s atrocious behavior. We’re going to put it in writing.
Who trains Suffolk Police Department on riot control techniques?
Bennett: Up until recently, we haven’t had a whole lot of civil unrest in this country. What a lot of agencies are doing now is training a select group of people. We have a group of about 30 supervisors and officers with state of the art riot control gear to protect them — helmets, face masks, chest protectors, leg protectors. The state police came in and trained us for a week or two, and then we train in-house every quarter. We have a team of 30 folks who are very good at it, and could come in if we ever needed them, and we hope we don’t. The rest of our people get the bare minimum. We’re in the process of getting helmets and stuff now as we speak. We got a grant not too long ago, so that’s coming.
What type of riot control weapons does Suffolk Police Department have?
Bennett: We would use our armored vehicle if things ever got really, really bad. Otherwise it will stay parked and hidden out of sight. In a riot situation, we may use weapons to disperse gas. We do not have or use rubber bullets.
Tell me what kind of gas you would use if needed.
Buie: We have a 40-millimeter gas projector. We start with OC, just pepper spray. It’s just a gas that irritates and gets in your eyes and makes you want to leave. After that, if things progressed, we would use CS gas, which is a little more irritant; it’s a little more effective. CS is more for a barricaded person inside of a house that refused to come out.
Have you ever thought about establishing a civilian review board?
Bennett: No. I have heard positives and I have heard probably more negatives. I look at it as I already got a civilian review board — the City Attorney’s office, Human Resources, the city manager and all of his folks, and our City Council members. They set policy for what the police department and everybody else do. Quite frankly, I don’t see a need. Maybe in some cities, there is a need.