Point of View: Conduct of Minneapolis officer is counter to HPD values

The police department is saddened and dismayed by the horrible conduct of a police officer in Minnesota last week which has left our country torn and shattered. The responsible officer has been arrested, but any sentence he receives will pale in the light of the irreparable loss of George Floyd’s life and the damage the office did to the relationship between the law enforcement community in the United States and the citizens we serve.

In Homer, our officers have always strived to be a part of the community and support it in every way. We work diligently to earn your trust and build community partnerships. You will see our officers coaching football and baseball teams, volunteering with the Boy Scouts, at community events, being active in their churches and providing educational community programs like Project Drive. Through our day-to-day interactions and dedication to serving our community in a variety of ways, we strive to build and maintain relationships with you based on trust, mutual respect and understanding.

We take civil rights very seriously here. Our policies require our officers to display the highest degree of integrity at all times and follow the law enforcement code of ethics. Officers are required to observe and protect the civil rights of all people and we have safeguards in place to ensure policies are followed.

The protection of our citizens starts with the hiring process. Applicants are required to pass a polygraph test and a comprehensive psychological review. A thorough background investigation is conducted along with an extensive interview process. We have been trying to hire another officer since the first of the year, but we still have not found the right fit for our department and our community. We will keep advertising until we find an applicant we can totally trust to serve and protect the community with care and devotion to the standards we have set.

After hiring, all officers have to attend an approved police academy. The police academy in Alaska is operated by the State Troopers in Sitka and is 18 weeks long. The applicants receive extensive training in all aspects of law enforcement, including constitutional law, civil rights, cultural diversity, ethics and interacting with mentally ill people, just to name a few.

Training continues throughout a Homer Police officer’s career. For example, in the past five years, just some of the areas we have trained on include working effectively with autistic people, those suffering from PTSD and the mentally ill. All of our officers participated in Green Dot training and other de-escalation training as well. We also train very regularly on use of force techniques. We have two officers trained as instructors on physical control tactics.

These are techniques an officer can use to physically control a violent person without having to resort to higher levels of force that could result in physical injury. Our policies require officers to utilize the minimum amount of force necessary to control the person and react to the threat they have encountered. We monitor the use of force by our officers through a required reporting system. Any time an officer uses force in any situation, they are required to report it to the police chief in a report separate from any others connected to the case. Every one of these reports is reviewed to determine if additional or remedial training is required, to ensure our policies are being followed, and to make sure we do not have an officer resorting to force inappropriately.

The video from Minnesota is simply disgusting. The conduct displayed by the officer is counter to how we train, who we are and what we represent. We are a part of this community and the community is a part of us. We will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our citizens, and diligent in our on-going police officer training efforts with an aim of serving all residents regardless of race or sexual orientation equally, justly and with compassionate concern.

Mark Robl started as a patrol officer with the Homer Police in late 1984 and has been Chief of Police since 1999.