Police chief addresses CSPD’s policies, use of force
By Billy Couch, College Station Police Chief
The national discussion about race relations and policing has touched every corner of our country, including College Station. It’s essential that we understand the perspectives of all members of our community.
As a department, the College Station Police Department has initiated open dialogue with local black leaders about productive ways to strengthen our community relationships. These open and transparent conversations are the foundation of how trust is established.
Accountability is essential, not just to the police profession, but for being accountable to the community we serve. CSPD’s mission is “To Protect and Serve with Excellence.” The members of our organization are committed to that mission and strive to serve all with dignity and respect.
In recent weeks, we received several questions about the department’s policies and procedures regarding unbiased policing, body-worn cameras, professional standards, and the use of force.
Allow me to address each of those areas.
CSPD thoroughly trains its personnel to avoid bias-based policing and discriminatory activities. Our officers focus on behavior and specific suspect information when we take police action. We won’t take action based on race (racial profiling), ethnic background, national origin, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age, or cultural group.
CSPD aggressively investigates instances of bias-based policing. Employees engaging in such conduct will be held accountable with appropriate disciplinary action, including termination.
We have used body-worn cameras since 2014 and issue them to all sworn officers who routinely interact with the public. Along with in-car video and audio recorders, the cameras are essential law enforcement tools. These tools help with the effective prosecution of criminal cases and provide a layer of transparency for the daily activities of a police officer.
The cameras must be activated when it’s practical and safe during traffic stops, pursuits, person and vehicle searches, physical and verbal confrontations, use-of-force incidents, obtaining statements from victims and witnesses, the advising of Miranda rights, interrogations, and other legitimate law enforcement contacts.
CSPD documents and investigates all complaints, regardless of whether the source comes from inside or outside the police department. That includes anonymous complaints. Our policy protects the community, our personnel, and the department while identifying and correcting inappropriate behavior or policy issues.
In cases where a pending offense is being considered by the courts, we refer those complainants with case-specific concerns to the appropriate court. If additional concerns exist outside of the offense the court is considering, we’ll investigate those concerns to reach a resolution.
If you are aware of a CSPD employee’s misconduct, we encourage you to file a complaint with the police department at any time:
- Appear in person at the Police Department.
- Call Internal Affairs at 979-764-3651 during business hours.
- Call 979-764-3600 and ask to speak with a supervisor.
- Email: email@example.com.
- Mail: CSPD Internal Affairs, P.O. Box 9960, College Station, TX 77842.
Complaints are thoroughly explored by an assigned investigator, reviewed by the chain of command, and then sent to a chief for final disposition. When the investigation is complete, we notify the complainant. If necessary, and depending on the circumstances, we discipline the officer or provide additional training.
For more information, go to cstx.gov/police. Compliments and Complaints pamphlets are available in the department lobby and College Station City Hall.
Recruiting and Training
CSPD seeks to recruit and hire good people who possess a servant’s heart and dedicate themselves to continuous improvement. We want our personnel to serve with compassion, respect, and kindness. We are fully committed to character-based hiring and enlisting employees who will adhere to the highest level of professional service and standards.
Our organization strives to mirror the diversity of our city demographics. The police department is underrepresented by minority employees, and we don’t reflect the demographics we want to achieve. In spite of targeted recruiting efforts, we fall short.
We implore our citizens to encourage minority citizens to consider the police department as viable career choice. We ask that they inspire our youth to learn more about policing and consider it a noble profession where serving others can be a fulfilling career.
Our meticulous hiring process includes a rigorous exam, physical test, extensive board interviews, thorough background investigation, polygraph exam, psychological evaluation, and an interview with a chief. When the process is complete, new officers attend a basic, 17-week police academy.
After graduation, officers participate in a field training program. We pair them with field training officers who have been selected and trained to ensure they pass on the appropriate practices and principles. The new officers then endure an additional 20 weeks of field training and first-hand observation.
We emphasize providing state-of-the-art training with a focus on de-escalation techniques and crisis intervention. Our overriding policy is to respect and value human life.
Use of Force
Each year, we average about 100,000 citizen contacts. Those contact lead to the use force about 100 times.
An officer’s determination for using force and the level of force used is based upon the officer’s evaluation of the situation in light of the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time the force is applied. The determination is based upon what a reasonably prudent officer would use under the same or similar situations, rather than the perfect vision of hindsight.
Due to the consequential nature of using any degree of force — including deadly force — our officers receive annual training on our Use of Force Policy and the authority to use force under the Texas Penal Code. Employees receive legal updates on the use of force as changes occur.
Periodically, we provide additional training to reinforce the importance of effective communication, de-escalation and to strengthen our use of proper techniques.
Some residents have asked us about specific use-of-force policy recommendations, as presented by 8cantwait.org. Here’s how CSPD policies specifically apply to those eight proposals:
1. Require officers to report unnecessary force used by fellow police officers.
CSPD employees who know about a potential violation of the law, regulation, or policy are required to report it through their chain of command, the city’s human resources director, or our ethics hotline (877-874-8416) or cstx.alertline.com. They must also immediately notify their supervisor of any on-duty injury.
The policy further requires personnel to report uses of force in our Internal Affairs (I.A.) system. Each incident is individually reviewed for policy compliance by the supervisory chain of command — and by I.A., if necessary. Employees must answer all questions related to the matter. Lying, omitting crucial details, or refusing to cooperate with an I.A. investigation ultimately could be grounds for termination.
2. Restrict higher levels of force to be used only in extreme situations.
CSPD requires the use of de-escalation techniques and other alternatives when possible, safe, and appropriate before using force or using higher levels of force. When de-escalation techniques are not effective or appropriate, officers will employ less-lethal force to control a non-compliant or actively resistant person.
An officer is authorized to use approved less-lethal force techniques and department-issued equipment to protect the officer or others from immediate physical harm, to restrain or subdue someone resisting or evading arrest, or to bring an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control. Officers may use deadly force when it is objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. Use of deadly force is justified in defense of human life — including the officer’s life — from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious injury.
Officers may also use such force to prevent a subject from fleeing when they committed — or intend to commit — a felony involving serious injury or death. The officer must reasonably believe there is an immediate risk of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or others if the subject is not immediately apprehended.
3. Ban shooting at moving vehicles.
CSPD policy prohibits shooting at a moving vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is threatening the officer or someone else with deadly force by means other than the vehicle, or the vehicle is operated in a manner deliberately intended to strike an officer or another person. Other reasonable defenses will first be used, such as getting out of the vehicle’s path.
4. Require officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force.
Any force our officers use must be objectively reasonable and necessary to effectively accomplish lawful objectives while protecting the public and our officers’ lives. Officers will always try to minimize pain and injury that may result from the use of force.
While on duty, they will assist citizens as needed when it doesn’t conflict with law enforcement principles or violate laws or department policies.
5. Force officers to exhaust all other reasonable alternatives before using deadly force.
Officers should consider force-mitigating circumstances when dealing with someone who is injured or receiving medical care. That may include the level and immediacy of the threat or danger, the person’s ability to carry it out, and alternative methods of force. Deadly force shouldn’t be used against those whose actions threaten only themselves or property.
6. Require officers to give a verbal warning before shooting.
When it is safe and practical, our officers are trained to provide warnings before using force. Before taking action, officers will identify themselves by displaying their badge and identification card — unless it’s impractical or when their identity is apparent.
7. Require officers to de-escalate situations before they turn extreme or deadly.
CSPD requires the use of de-escalation techniques and other alternatives when possible, safe, and appropriate before resorting to higher levels of force. Whenever possible, officers will allow individuals time and opportunity to comply with verbal commands unless a delay compromises safety or could result in evidence destruction, the suspect’s escape, or the commission of a crime.
8. Ban chokeholds and strangleholds.
CSPD policies and practices prohibit neck restraints, Lateral Vascular Neck Restraints (LVNR), or similar weaponless control techniques that can cause serious injury or death. LVNR is a choke, sleeper, or other hold intended to disrupt the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, which can lead to a temporary unconsciousness.
As always, the College Station Police Department deeply appreciates your support and will never take it for granted.
As a nationally accredited law enforcement agency for almost 30 years, we adhere to the best practices and highest standards in our industry. That means we continually review our policies and practices to ensure our officers conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism and integrity.
We are entirely and unequivocally committed to protecting, serving, and proactively engaging with everyone in our community. If you see ways we can do better, please let me know.
I’m always ready to listen and learn.
About the Blogger
A 23-year veteran of the College Station Police Department, Billy Couch was named police chief in May after seven years as an assistant chief. He previously served as a patrol lieutenant, patrol/traffic sergeant, SWAT team member, narcotics investigator, and patrol officer. Couch earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M, a master’s from Sam Houston State, and graduated from the FBI’s National Academy.
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