The UMKC Police Department updated its policies and procedures this summer to clarify their officers’ duty to intervene and what they deem unacceptable uses of force.
According to UMKC Police Chief Michael Bongartz, the department added the following to its policies and procedures on July 17:
“All members of the Police Department must recognize and act upon the duty to intervene to prevent or stop any other Police Department member from conducting any act that is unethical, that violates law or policy (e.g., excessive force, theft, fraud, inappropriate language, sexual misconduct, harassment, falsifying documents, inappropriate behavior, etc.). Intervention may be verbal and/or physical. Failure to intervene may subject a Police Department member to disciplinary action.”
The changes come following an incident last spring in which Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin allegedly killed George Floyd while he restrained him.
Per the statement, UMKC PD officers would be required to intervene in incidents similar to the arrest of George Floyd, where Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin allegedly killed the 46-year-old Black man by kneeling on his neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds. Two other officers assisted Chauvin in restraining Floyd, while a third officer prevented bystanders from interfering with the arrest. The state of Minnesota charged Chauvin with second-degree murder, in addition to third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, on June 3. Additionally, the other three officers involved in the incident face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
In a statement to UNews, Bongartz said the UMKC Police Department has routinely trained its officers in de-escalation tactics and in fair and impartial policing, including cultural competency, communication and intrinsic bias, racial profiling for traffic stops and field contacts.
When updating policies this summer, the department clarified its position on the use of neck restraints.
“At the request of campus leadership, UMKCPD reviewed its policies and procedures following the tragic death of George Floyd,” Bongartz said. “In updating policy, we also added specific language on what we don’t do: The department prohibits any type of neck restraint, and has never allowed and does not have any policy that would allow for kneeling on an individual’s neck.”
UMKC Student Government Association Vice President Mahreen Ansari commended the changes.
“I felt really appreciative that they had listened to not only current events, but also some of the outcries of students we have on campus and how they decided to take a step in the right direction,” Ansari said.
UMKC Men of Color President Nabil Abas also appreciated the policy updates, but questioned whether the UMKCPD would adhere to the changes in the future.
“Yes, it’s good to have these policies in hand but how far would this policy go?” Abas said. “If anything comes up, will these policies be followed? I liked that they took the initiative to update the policy. I’d like to see how well they hold up to these policies.”
While Ansari said the changes were positive, she added that more improvements could be made to policy.
“I think there’s always room for improvement within different organizations, like police departments, that are meant to protect and serve,” Ansari said.
Abas also applauded the department’s initiative in updating policy, though he believes communication between the department and students on the matter will be important.
“I do think this is a step in the right direction,” Abas said. “But what are we doing to make sure these policies are equitable for all? Are we making sure the relationship between the police department and students is a two-way street? I think that’s our next big step towards making sure this is good for the university as a whole.”
Abas praised the overall conduct of the UMKCPD, noting that he’d never heard from students of any incidents of racial bias or profiling by the department.
However, Ansari said she had heard from students that feel they have been profiled by the UMKC police.
“I’ve heard from some students, incidents of men being profiled by the police,” said Ansari. “But I’ve haven’t heard anything thus far about any brutality.”
Ansari felt uncomfortable commenting on the specifics of such incidents, preferring to let those affected speak of their own accord.