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Gainesville police will increase de-escalation training, create citizen input panel
Department will also direct officers to step in when an abuse of force is observed
Gainesville Police Car.jpg

The Gainesville Police Department plans several reforms, including a new citizen input group and an increase in de-escalation training, in response to community conversations about relationships between police and citizens, Chief Jay Parrish announced Tuesday, Aug. 4. 

“We stand in the gap of justice and injustice and civilization and anarchy, but we also have to bridge the gap between us and the community and listen,” Parrish said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “That’s what I’ve learned the most, is to listen.” 

Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, protesters gathered nationwide, including in Gainesville. Gainesville’s Newtown Florist Club, a local civil rights group, then organized two community events for residents and law enforcement to share their experiences.  

Parrish said the conversations had inspired several new practices for the department. One change planned, he said, includes a new intervention policy requiring officers to hold each other accountable. 

“As we watched George Floyd be murdered, as ugly as the event was itself, we were just as disturbed by the officers that stood by and watched,” Parrish said. “… We’re changing our policy to require officers to act anytime they see another officer, regardless of rank, use excessive force, undue force or acts in any manner that may violate the citizen’s civil rights, that they have a duty to step in and act and stop that from occurring.” 

Gainesville officers spend about five to 10 hours a year on de-escalation training, with de-escalation training also incorporated into other training efforts, Parrish said. But the department plans to increase that training by about 300%, with the first 24 hours of training out of the police academy focusing on de-escalation. 

When approaching a citizen, officers will also be required to identify themselves, provide their badge number and give the citizen the reason for the encounter, Parrish said. 

In another effort to improve relationships with citizens, the department will form a new committee of about 10 to 15 diverse community members to write a strategic plan for community relations, Parrish said.  

Parrish said he also hopes the department can better reflect the community moving forward. 

“Our force has to match the demographics of our city, and we’re working really hard to do that, both in recruitment and selection,” he said. 

And citizens will also soon have easier access to information about the police. A city website update planned for early 2021 will include a section on the police department site providing quarterly data about arrests, race, whether force was used and what the charges were in the case. 

City police will also move to non-custodial arrests for several violations, including misdemeanor marijuana charges, shoplifting, driving without a license and city ordinance violations. People will be issued citations rather than taken into custody.