'Many support': Russian-speaking policeman from California spoke about work during the protests
The protest wave against police brutality that swept the United States more than two months ago has recently subsided. Nevertheless, in a number of cities, for example in Portland (Oregon), clashes between protesters and law enforcement officers continue. ForumDaily spoke with the officer of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, homicide investigator Vitaly Prokopchuk about how legitimate the demands of the rally participants are, how the use of force by the police is actually regulated, and what the situation looks like “from the other side of the barricades”.
freedom of speech
Vitaly admits: at the beginning of the protest movement, he and his colleagues felt the deterioration of public relations.
«Of course, on the one hand, it is unpleasant to face harsh rejection, especially without any obvious reason. For example, I myself have not worked on the protests of recent months, but I could hear insults just by serving on patrol. On the other hand, as a native of the former Soviet Union, I cannot help but appreciate that this is the essence of a free society - everyone has the right to express their opinion, even if it is unpleasant to you. Here, in the USA, unlike in modern Russia, there is no concept of responsibility "for insulting a representative of the authorities." If a person does not commit illegal actions, in words he has the right to say whatever he thinks. Yes, sometimes it jars, but most police officers get used to such things during their service."- explains the policeman.
According to Vitaly Prokopchuk, he has a positive attitude towards peaceful protesters, but does not approve of provocateurs.
«Most people take to the streets with good, constructive intentions. But among them there may be "revolutionaries" who aim to destroy the entire system to the ground and destroy the entire social order. When they start using force, they really become dangerous."He notes.
At the same time, the officer assures: despite the activity of the protest movement, the protesters are only a small part of society.
«We have repeatedly encountered a positive reaction from people. Moreover, we have never felt such support as we do these days. Police officers constantly receive letters and cards of gratitude from schoolchildren. Local residents often bring pastries and sweets to the sites. Of course, perhaps some of these people are acting insincerely and just want to stand out in the eyes of the police. But such people always leave their business cards, try to build informal contacts with officers, etc. This behavior is immediately apparent. However, the overwhelming majority of people simply give gifts and leave, that is, they act absolutely disinterestedly. And this kind of selfless support is much more common.", - says Vitaliy Prokopchuk.
Laws and regulations
Nevertheless, the investigator believes that the demands of the protesters are not entirely correct, at least because what happened in one police station (in this case, the death of an African American George Floyd in Minneapolis) cannot be extrapolated to others.
«There is no single federal regulation of police work. It is regulated, on the one hand, by the laws of the state, on the other, by the internal regulations of a particular police department. At the same time, internal instructions are always stricter in relation to officers than state law", - explains Vitaly.
According to the officer, the training and selection that police officers undergo in California are very different from what happens in other states.
«Our state has one of the toughest selections for service. For example, an out-of-state police officer cannot transfer to work in California without completing a retraining and qualification examination in our state. Our training lasts longer than in other states, and recently it has begun to include a special block of classes related to the treatment of inadequate people - for example, those with mental disorders or under the influence of drugs. Already serving officers must also regularly take retraining courses during service.", - Vitaliy Prokopchuk comments.
The right to shoot
According to state law, a police officer has the right to use weapons to protect his own life or the lives of others, while the threat to life must be real.
«Everything here is regulated very strictly: for example, if a criminal is armed with a knife and even threatens with it, but is far enough from you and physically cannot reach you, you have no right to shoot, because the threat in this case is not feasible. Also, you cannot use weapons if the attacker simply does not obey your requirements or tries to escape - although in this case, of course, it all depends on the situation. For example, if you have a dangerous repeat offender in front of you, or he has just killed a person, and, being armed, rushes to run, it is highly likely that he will commit another murder along the way. However, if it is, say, an ordinary thief, the police are not allowed to shoot if they escape.", - explains Vitaly.
On the other hand, local regulations do not oblige police officers to shoot "not to kill."
«The police use weapons to eliminate the threat. At the moment, they do not think about whether they will succeed in killing a person or only wounding, their goal is to stop him at any cost", The policeman admits.
Investigations into the use of force
Every use of weapons by the police, regardless of whether or not it resulted in a lethal outcome, is subject to mandatory investigation at four levels: the police department's own internal security office or sheriff's office (internal affairs office), a homicide investigation department, and two supervisory authorities: offices the district attorney and the inspector general. One of the mandatory points of the investigation is to establish the reality of the threat. Often, conclusions can be drawn from the video recording of the detention. However, the obligation for police to wear video cameras also varies from department to department. In Sacramento County, for example, officers don't have that responsibility.
«I know that many police officers in different states oppose the rule of compulsory video recording of detention. But in practice it turns out that in most cases this record, on the contrary, proves the officer's innocence.", - says Vitaliy Prokopchuk.
If the reality of the threat is difficult to establish, investigators ask other experienced police officers how they would react in a similar situation. Vitaly assures: the effect of "mutual guarantee" in this case is minimized, since the respondents should not have any connection with the officer under investigation and his case.
«In fact, it is unprofitable for the department to cover a careless employee, because sooner or later he will create too many problems. In my practice, I have repeatedly encountered fatal cases when the police opened fire, but practically did not meet that force was used unjustifiably“- he is sure.
In his opinion, in California, it is also impossible to talk about the use of force on racial grounds.
«I have not noticed that weapons were used more often against any national or racial group than against others. In any case, the requirement to deprive the police of funding does not seem adequate, at least because it will affect the departments that monitor the use of force.", - emphasizes Vitaly.
At the same time, he said, changes are indeed taking place under the pressure of protests. A number of departments are revising the criteria for the use of force, and in California, for example, at the state level, the use of suffocation by the police was prohibited.
«However, this can also be a double-edged sword, since without being able to use such a technique, the police officer may be forced to shoot"- warns the officer.
Another consequence of the protests was an increase in the interaction of law enforcement agencies with local residents and public organizations.
«In fact, it existed even before the rallies - I myself was once an officer responsible for contacts with the population. I met with the elected authorities, went to informal meetings with citizens in schools and clubs, where we collected local inquiries, explained to people the specifics of our work, and so on. The contacts that we built then are preserved today, despite the protests"- concluded the policeman.
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