BOWIE, MD — Chief John Nesky of the Bowie Police Department shared his reactions to the recent death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis.
A video released online shows George Floyd, 46, struggling to breathe as a Minnesota police officer pressed his knee into his neck, as three other officers watched.
Derek Chauvin was the officer who was seen with his knee on Floyd's neck during an arrest. Floyd later died after saying that he was struggling to breathe during the arrest, the video shows. All four officers were fired and Chauvin is now being held on $1.25 million bail at Oak Park Heights Prison without condition and $1 million bail with conditions.
Patch: What are your thoughts about the video showing the arrest of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, when an officer kneels on his neck?
Chief John Nesky: To say the least it's jarring. The pieces that I've seen and what I've seen are indefensible. There is no way that I can wrap my head around any reasoning behind that officer's actions. It's indefensible and disgraceful.
What are your thoughts about the protests that have come out in the aftermath of that video being released?
At least in my mind, if you look at the pressures and anxiety and fears that the general public are sitting on at the moment, when you talk about COVID, talking about being quarantined, your daily routine upset, your economic future, possibly imperiled, joblessness, you don't know where your paycheck's going to come from, or if your company is going to come back or if you're a service worker and what your future might look like. You've got all this pent up anxiety and fear and anger. And then do you have, which, in my opinion, maybe provided some kindling. Then you have the incident with Mr. Floyd and doesn't take much to elicit that kind of visceral response.
You also have the history of the social inequities and some of the other factors that that particular community has dealt with, and as you know, has tried to mitigate and bring needed police reform. And here anyway, is a very clear cut, very clear case of misuse of force.
One of the things that you'll notice is there's not a lot of people standing up to defend this officer. Oftentimes, you do get the remarks of "Let's look at it completely," but you don't see that even from the chief. Other organizations and other chiefs are basically saying the same thing that I am, that you can't see any justification for that officer's actions. It's the same way with the officers who did nothing to intervene. That to me is a disgrace to the profession.
How important is it for police departments to respond quickly to disciplining an officer in a situation like that?
It depends on where you are state to state, because different states have different rules of engagement for disciplining their officers. In Maryland, we have the [Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights]. So what I will say is it's important that you can take the steps that you are allowed to take. Oftentimes, you'll see, especially in Maryland, if there's a death, there's a criminal aspect of this case and a criminal aspect has to come before the administrative aspect. And this is where tensions run. And this is where it can be a very tough situation to navigate where we can't release what we want to release, or we can't come to conclusion as quickly, because we have to let the criminal case play itself out. In other words, the administrative investigation has different rules than the criminal investigation.
What has your department done in terms of handling racially sensitive situations and community policing?
Luckily, we haven't had any striking ones yet. And I will say that, knock on wood, it can happen to anybody at any time. But the most important part of any of this is to lay the groundwork ahead of time. ... One things we work hard at is trying to keep those lines of communication open and keep that feedback, that two-way conversation going.
I will say sometimes, you get more bang for your buck, you get more trust from the public when you do make a small mistake and you own up to it versus doing everything right all the time. I've had people that will call and complain about something, I'll look into it. "You're absolutely right. That officer should've done it this way instead of that way." And that resident or that citizen walks away with more confidence in our department. And it started not because we did something right, but because we found that we could have done something better and we corrected it. No one is going to get everything right 100 percent of the time, but it's important and what's very vital is how do you handle it when you do something incorrectly or not to the standard that you wanted it to be.
What would you say to someone who was looking at the George Floyd video and other videos like it online about the police profession?
The profession of law enforcement continues to evolve. If you look at the way we police now, it's not the way we policed in the '70s, which was not like when policed in the '80s. Each decade has its own challenge. And each decade has that tipping point, which makes us change direction and pushes us further into the future and further into best practices and further into accountability and transparency.
Accountability and transparency were not spoken a lot early on in policing. It's very recent. You go back even 40 years, and that was not on the tip of everyone's tongue. It was not something that departments strove for. As these things happen — and they're tragic — but one of the things that we need to do is take every opportunity that we can to become better as a profession, and then better at serving our community.