Communication includes listening, Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen said of city-wide events that have sparked discussions on police policies and race relations.
“What we witnessed were people who are scared,” said Mary Cookie-Goings of the Beachside Chats event held June 7. “Some were scared, some are scarred.”
She and others had gathered at Chapin Park to talk about race, healing, peace and understanding in a chat sponsored by the city’s neighborhood services department. Other chats are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at Chapin Park on June 28, July 12 and July 26. Attendees are asked to bring their own chairs to maintain social distancing, an open heart and an open mind.
The chats spun out of a pair of protests held May 31 spanning from Ocean Boulevard to the police station off Oak Street that resulted in the city declaring a 6 p.m. curfew, closing businesses, officers in riot gear marching protesters toward Kings Highway and several people being arrested. Another protest was held in The Market Common area on June 7 that included Pedersen, Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock and Mayor Brenda Bethune walking with the demonstrators.
The protests were held in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His arrest was filmed and shared worldwide as a police officer knelt on his neck and onlookers pleaded for his release while Floyd repeated, “I can’t breathe.”
Prock and Pedersen said numerous people have contacted the city asking about the city’s policing policies.
“We train, we train, we train,” Prock said of continuing to evaluate all of the police department’s policies.
The most recent update is a June 2019 revision on the department’s use of force policy.
The agency bans chokeholds and strangleholds unless an officer “reasonably believes there is an immediate threat of serious injury or death to themselves or another person.” They are barred from being used to maintain control of a person in custody or overcome any level of resistance.
Prock said officers are required to participate in de-escalation training, which teaches them techniques to reduce threats with the goal of gaining voluntary compliance and eliminating the need to use physical force.
The policy also requires officers to warn before shooting with a caveat.
“Time permitting, officers must give the subject warning of imminent application of less lethal force. Officers are encouraged and trained to give loud and clear verbal commands as part of attempts to de-escalate a situation for every level of force, including for use of lethal force,” the policy states.
There is also a requirement for officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting and they are required to intervene if they see another officer violating the use of force policies. If an officer does not intervene or report an excessive use of force, the officer could face disciplinary action including being fired.
Additionally, officers are trained not to fire at or from moving vehicles unless there is imminent threat of death or serious physical harm to the officer or a third party. Officers are trained to avoid moving in front of any vehicle and not stand in front of a vehicle to prevent escape.
The policy states displaying a weapon is “not considered a use of force but a show of force.”
The policy also states several less-lethal equipment and techniques are allowed under section 273. They include a baton to establish control; verbal commands to calm subjects; beanbag rounds fired from a shotgun; empty-handed punches to take down a subject and gain control; tear gas and pepperball fired at a distance and tasers.
Section 273 warns about positional asphyxiation. For instance, the policy states, if a person is resisting arrest and an officer has the person lying on his or her belly with the officer on top, the subject could die.
“If a subject ends up in this position after resisting arrest or otherwise, officers should remove them from this position as soon as it is safe to do so,” the policy states.
The section also warns against hog tying, which is tethering a person’s hands and feet together behind their back.
“This technique has been shown to contribute to positional asphyxia resulting in death, and is, therefore, strictly prohibited,” the policy states.
The manual also defines types of resistance stating the manner of resistance should dictate the officer’s response ranging from verbal resistance to non-verbal by taking a “fighting stance.” It also defines defensive resistance to include a person who doesn’t want to be in custody so they run or lock themselves in a vehicle.
“Their actions do not present a risk of immediate danger to the officer or others,” the manual states.
The full policy manual is available at police.cityofmyrtlebeach.com.