Silverthorne police chief discusses policies, culture and use of force within department
SILVERTHORNE — As conversations around policing and use of force take place across the country, Silverthorne Town Council discussed the Silverthorne Police Department with Chief John Minor on Wednesday, June 24, at the council’s work session.
Town Manager Ryan Hyland started by explaining the overall purpose of the conversation, which he said is to make sure that council and the community are “aware of the policies and the culture and the values that are present in our department.” He noted that while policies are similar to other departments, he feels the culture at the Silverthorne Police Department is one the town is proud of.
“I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit and say, what you saw in Minnesota was not us and it’s never been us,” Minor said, adding that he’s been a police officer in the community for 30 years. “But I think one of the things we’ve got to talk about is use of force and what exactly does that mean. We define force as pretty much anything that is hands on except for the act of handcuffing someone or escorting someone who is unruly.”
Anytime someone in the department employs use of force it is reviewed and reported, Minor said. He said that in 2019, there were nine uses of force. Of these nine, Minor reported that none resulted in serious bodily injury and that most incidents resulted in no injuries whatsoever. He said that the department had approximately one use of force incident in 2019 out of approximately 1,000 contacts. Minor said there has been one use of force in 2020, in which the legs of a person who was trying to kick a police officer were restrained.
Minor reported that the last time there was an officer-involved shooting in Silverthorne was in 1991, where an individual charged a police officer with a machete and was shot. He said the last time an officer shot and killed someone in Silverthorne was in 1986, when an individual disarmed a police officer and attempted to shoot the officer with the officer’s gun and was then shot. He said that these were the last two times a Silverthorne officer discharged a firearm in an officer-involved shooting scenario.
“Force is not what we do. We de-escalate, we train in de-escalation, we train in anti-bias policing. Could we use more de-escalation training? Yes. I don’t think you can ever get enough training, but we do about 80-120 hours of in-service training per officer per year. The state mandate is 24, so we far exceed that,” Minor said.
In regards to transparency, Minor said he has put out a statistical summary for the past three years, providing every call to service, incident, internal affairs investigation and outcome, and traffic accident and outcome. He said the department is working to understand the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis last Friday. He said it would have an impact on the town and the department would likely need to hire at least one additional employee to keep track of required data.
“There’s many parts of the bill that we agree with and we’re thankful for and there’s other parts like the data collection which in my opinion is like hitting a nail with a sledgehammer,” Minor said. “It doesn’t apply to us, it’s never applied to us but we don’t mind complying with that whatsoever.”
Council Member Michael Spry said he hopes that when these reports and data are evaluated in the future they will show the town and department is looking for trends that “hopefully will never exist that show that we have bias within our engagements with our public.” Mayor Ann-Marie Sandquist acknowledged that it would be a lot of data entry for the police department but that she feels it will benefit the department as it will show that there is not a bias in the department.
“Sometimes those data points can, even though they’re kind of a pain to have to record all the time, it can be a very positive thing for our police department and our community as well to, as Mike said, provide more information that there is not a bias within our department,” Sandquist said.
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