Daily Times-Call, Longmont, Colo.
Following months of protesting across the nation this summer, which called on police reform in response to the deaths Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, Longmont Public Safety officials sought to shed light on its own use of force policies during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Longmont Acting Public Safety Chief Rob Spendlow emphasized during the meeting that the department discontinued its use of ketamine, a drug that can be used as a sedative, on Sept. 16. He also went over the department’s use of force policy, which states that chokeholds are prohibited.
The study session discussion was initiated by Councilwoman Polly Christensen. She said she called for a release of the information one week after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, sparking mass protesting across the U.S., the state and the county.
“At the time, we did not know of the case of Elijah McClain’s death due to a ketamine injection in the custody of the Aurora police,” Christensen wrote in an email before the meeting Tuesday. “When I became aware of that case, I asked that Council and residents be publicly informed of the Longmont police policy on use of force, including sedative drugs like ketamine.”
McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died on Aug. 30, days after he was reportedly tackled and choked by Aurora police and injected with ketamine by a paramedic, according to The Denver Post.
Christensen said she was “very happy to know” that the use of ketamine was discontinued in Longmont.
“If you use too much, you can kill somebody,” she said.
In an email before Tuesday’s meeting, Longmont Police Deputy Chief Jeff Satur said Longmont Public Safety stopped its use of ketamine in September under advisement from its medical director. Police didn’t administer the sedative, Satur said, but Longmont Fire had obtained a waiver in 2018 from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for pre-hospital use of the drug.
The waiver required that all use of the drug be directly reviewed by Longmont Public Safety Medical Director Dr. Julie Krell Hall. The waiver was specific on requirements in administering the drug, including required personnel training, testing and medical director authorization. Administration of the drug was intended for pain management and sedation in the presence of suspected agitated delirium, according to information from Satur.
Longmont Fire and Longmont AMR administered ketamine 93 times since 2018, with 68 of those instances being for pain management and 25 for excited delirium, Spendlow said during the meeting.
“In those 93 uses we’ve never had an adverse effect,” he said.
Spendlow also read through parts of the public safety’s use of force policy, which notes that chokeholds are prohibited, with the exception “of protecting yourself or another person who is in imminent danger of being killed or receiving serious bodily injury.”
Longmont Police Services Division’s current use of force and use of force reporting policy was instituted in 1992, but is reevaluated at least once a year, Satur said in a follow up phone interview Tuesday night. He said the department has “always” had a use of force policy.
Councilwoman Susie Hidalgo-Fahring brought up the importance of implicit bias training in the police force.
“It’s being able to pick up on those (biases) and adjust and respond accordingly,” Hidalgo-Fahring said. “It’s really a matter of having that individual put their biases aside, check those and have it be an innate action.”
Satur said the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training, which manages the certification and training of all peace officers, requires ongoing anti-bias training be completed at least once every five years.
Spendlow also told council members that public safety is working to finalize a use of force during medical emergencies policy that provides direction to Longmont Public Safety officials in those scenarios.
The policy defines a medical emergency as: “A subject experiencing a medical emergency which renders a person incapable of making a rational decision under circumstances and their actions, combative behavior, or resistance poses an immediate threat of serious harm to the person or others, and their medical condition will not be resolved by leaving them alone.”
Satur said the policy is under final review and is expected to be put in place in the weeks to come.
During the meeting Tuesday, Christensen emphasized that police “have an incredibly difficult job.”
“Our police have seen and had to deal with people in situations that I doubt most people could bear,” Christensen said. “I wanted our community to feel reassured that our police are good police and they are thoughtful and careful and we have policies. Every case is different, we have to be able to trust that our police officers have good training and good judgment.”
People can view the Longmont Police Service Division’s use of force policy, as well as the medical use of force policy online as part of council’s meeting packet at bit.ly/3s05DzB.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to say how incredibly proud I am of the public safety staff,” Spendlow said. “We work hard to provide alternatives our CORE, LEAD and some of the other things we do. Use of force, and it’s something we live daily, should always, always be our last resort.”
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