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Incoming Chief Shares Police Training, De-Escalation Tactics

Lt. Nelson Whitney, Falls Township Police Department’s incoming police chief, brought the national conversation about criminal justice reform to the local arena during Monday’s Supervisors meeting.

Nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd due to excessive police force have prompted some to call for major overhauls to law enforcement training, psychological evaluations and more.

Supervisor Jeff Rocco reached out to Whitney to find out how the township could ensure that officers were not using excessive force while on duty, are receiving adequate training and are not mistreating or racially profiling anyone. Their hour-long conversation prompted Whitney to share with the rest of the board during Monday’s virtual meeting the steps the police department takes to make sure police treat everyone fairly.

“We do so much,” Rocco said. “It should be made public to our citizens.”

Lt. Whitney outlined the various training that is required of Falls Township police officers, including cultural diversity; sexual harassment; and excited delirium. The latter is common with suspects on methamphetamine, bath salts, synthetic marijuana or PCP, Whitney said, noting that people “will resist and fight until they overheat and die.”

“It’s extremely important that we recognize the signs of excited delirium,” he said.

Falls police officers also undergo defensive tactics and firearms trainings three times a year.

“It’s important that officers be comfortable with the de-escalation techniques that we have,” Whitney said, adding that frequent training helps officers better evaluate situations. “When you watch some of these incidents that have occurred nationwide … You say to yourself as an experienced officer, ‘why did that officer even have their gun out?’”

Other required trainings include avoiding in-custody deaths and injuries; de-escalation training; and procedural justice, which centers on giving people a voice and treating people with respect and being trustworthy.

“Training is something we have to continually reinforce in the police department,” Lt. Whitney said.

The police department has a policy in place on bias-based policing. Each year, the department conducts a review of arrests made to examine the ethnicity of people arrested as compared to the demographics in the township. According to census data, 82.4 percent of Falls Township’s population is white. Data matches “quite nicely” with the demographics and indicates no sign of bias-based policing.

Neck restraining has been banned in the Falls Township Police Department for decades. Whitney, who has worked for Falls police since 1988, said it was never in place during his 32-year career.

“That is not anything our officers are trained to do here or permitted to do by policy,” he said.

Instead, police have restraint belts and leg restraints in every patrol unit and cell blocks. Cell blocks also have a restraint chair. Restraints allow people to be handcuffed up front instead of behind their back.

Instead of deadly force, officers, when necessary, use less lethal options, including pepper spray, tasers and batons.

“If we can de-escalate, officers frequently do. There’s a high value placed on human life,” Lt. Whitney said. “They don’t resort to higher levels of force just because they can.”

Lt. Whitney referenced several instances where police would have been justified in shooting and instead tackled the gun-wielding suspect to the ground to remove the weapon.

In other police-related news, the Supervisors approved an agreement with Carfax which will allow people to order and pay for a police report online with a credit card. The no-cost agreement also provides Falls Police with access to the Carfax database, which police can use for investigative work as part of criminal investigations.

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