SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond on Thursday urged patience with the process of an investigation into comments posted on social media by an SPD officer regarding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The investigation is expected to take six to eight weeks.
“I would encourage people who are furious to be patient and to watch the process,” Perkins said in a news conference early Thursday afternoon.
“I want to say that not only does the comments of individuals that in no way, shape, or form, represent the sentiments of the Shreveport Police Department or my administration drive a wedge between what we need to accomplish as a community but the actions around the country is driving that wedge. And if we’re gonna be successful going forward, if we’re going to avoid a violent summer and remainder of the year, we have to work together.”
The comments posted Wednesday by Sgt. Brent Mason said “this was a mistake or misstep not an act of murder” when referring to Floyd’s death.
While neither would comment in detail about the ongoing investigation into the officer’s comments, both the mayor and police chief spoke briefly about the incident they were referring to, in which Floyd was seen on video gasping for breath during an arrest as an officer kneeled on his neck for almost eight minutes. In the footage, Floyd pleads that he cannot breathe and slowly stops talking and moving.
“An individual made some comments that our community is very much up in arms about. They are very insensitive, and in the words of my friend and the fellow mayor from Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, the actions of those officers in Minneapolis were completely unacceptable. Police officers’ duty is to serve and protect. Not only was the duty absent in their actions, but also an element of humanity was lacking. To hear somebody cry out for help and say they can’t breathe and keep the knee on back of someone’s neck for over five minutes is painful to watch.”
Raymond said he found the video “disturbing, to say the least.”
“I was an instructor at our police academy and taught use of force and defensive tactics as part of my daily duties during that time. I’ve never been taught, nor do I believe, that placing the knee on the back of somebody’s neck for an extended period of time is an acceptable or justifiable use of force, except in instance of deadly force.”
Raymond said he contacted Sgt. Mason Wednesday night after be became aware of the officer’s comments about Floyd’s death in police custody on Facebook and asked him to take it down, which he said Mason did. He was placed on departmental leave Thursday morning to determine whether the comments violated the department’s social media policy.
After his post, the Shreveport Police Department posted to their page, stating, “the views expressed by individual officers on their personal social media accounts do not reflect the views or values of the Shreveport Police Department.”
On Thursday, Raymond sought to reassure the citizens of Shreveport that violations of the public trust will be dealt with appropriately while recognizing the damage such incidents can cause.
As I have proven over the last 18 months, I insist on leading an agency with integrity and putting the needs of citizens above all others. If a violation of our policies and more importantly a violation of the public trust occurs, then I will deal with it appropriately, as I have always done.”
No doubt, tensions are high both nationally and locally as a result of years distrust of policing methods and practices. Often times, as is the case today, incidents occur to further erode that trust and even if the incident was hundreds or even thousands of miles away, damage is done to the entire law enforcement profession and we in Shreveport are not immune.
We simply cannot move forward if we continue to tiptoe around one another and not have an action plan. We have worked hard to improve relationships between the Shreveport Police Department and the citizens of Shreveport. But many of the issues that we face today are historical in natures and have existed for over 100 years. We cannot erase history and we certainly cannot heal all wounds in the last 18 months.
Raymond said the department has already implemented training for officers in cultural diversity, de-escalation techniques, and dealing with mental illness. He also said officers are encouraged to engage in non-enforcement citizen contacts on a daily basis, in order to help build relationships outside of enforcement contact.
“We have reviewed, amended and added dozens of policies so that our officers know what is expected of them and so that we can hold officers accountable when those expectations are not met.”
In the post, Mason also says he’s been a part of the Shreveport Police Department for 25 years and training officers for 12 years. On Thursday, Raymond said the officer’s training and experience would be taken into consideration in the investigation. If it is determined that Mason violated departmental policy, the police chief said disciplinary measures could range from a letter of reprimand to suspension up to and including termination.
The mayor and police chief, along with Dist. D councilman Grayson Boucher, Dist. D councilman Grayson Boucher, and interim Dist. A councilwoman Tabatha H. Taylor in renewing the city’s commitment to equipping all of the city’s uniformed officers with body cameras.
Raymond said the city does have 90 of them, “but 90 body cameras doesn’t go very far when you have over 500 police officers,” and that purchasing them for all officers has been “an unfunded need for years now that we’ve tried to address previously.”
Raymond said he is hoping to work with the council to find the funding for both the body cameras and tasers, which he said would be an investment of about $2.9 million over five years or $2.1 million just for the body cams.
So far, Raymond says the city has been unable to come up with the funding, as it was not in a position to providing match requirements for previously available federal grants, “but we certainly are looking for any kind of opportunity to get our foot in the door.”
In the meantime, Raymond said the city plans to host town hall meetings to “provide an opportunity for citizens and police officers to discuss national and local events that are cause for concern and necessitate an open investigation with regards to investigate practices, policies, and procedures.
“The root of many of our problems may be misunderstanding and lack of meaningful conversation. We will do our part and I ask that all of you take a step forward and join us by doing yours,” said Raymond.
Perkins also announced Thursday that he is creating a 22 member Commission on Race and Cultural Diversity, which will begin work in June on how to build trust between SPD and the community of color.