John Piper

Winchester Police Chief John R. Piper was among the panelists at a discussion on Saturday at Shenandoah University on police tactics and racism in America.

WINCHESTER — When he applied to be a Winchester police officer in 2001, Cpl. William E. Sales was the only Black person among 50 candidates.

At a public forum on policing Saturday, Sales acknowledged minorities are often reluctant to become officers because of America's long history of police brutality and harassment of Black and Latino people. About 18% of the approximately 27,000 people in Winchester are Latino and 11% are Black, but of the Winchester Police Department's 71 officers, only 2.7% are Latino and about 4% are Black. But Sales said Winchester runs a clean department and encouraged minorities to apply.

"If you feel you can put the badge on and make a difference and do it right, do it," Sales said during  panel discussion at the James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics & Events Center at Shenandoah University. "Be impartial about it and non-judgmental and do it right. Regardless of your color. More [Black and Latino ] people need to apply."

Sales was joined on the panel by Winchester Commonwealth's Attorney Marc Abrams, local public defender Timothy S. Coyne, Winchester Police Chief John R. Piper, Winchester Mayor John David Smith Jr., and Winchester Sheriff Les Taylor. The panel was moderated by Miles Davis, president of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, and former dean of SU's business school.

The forum included hundreds of people watching online in the U.S. and in Brazil and Pakistan, some of whom submitted questions. The discussion was in response to the death of Black driver George Floyd under the knee of police officer Derek Michael Chauvin in Minneapolis on May 25 and ensuing protests around the world against police brutality and systemic racism. At some of the protests, police used flash bang grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets, even when the protesters were mostly nonviolent. 

Unlike the aggressive response by many police departments nationwide to the protests, Piper and Sales said Winchester police are trained to de-escalate tense situations and only use force as a last resort. They condemned the killing of Floyd. Piper was applauded for calling it murder.

"There was a time in this profession, I've been doing this almost 27 years, when it wasn't OK to say that," Piper said, referring to the longtime, unofficial code among police officers to not criticize fellow officers. "It is OK to say that."

Piper, who served with the Fairfax County Police Department before becoming Winchester's police chief in September 2017, said there have been just two police-involved shootings in Winchester since he has been chief and neither were deadly. Both involved men having mental breakdowns, and Piper said police too often have to deal with mentally ill people because of Virginia's underfunded mental health care system.

To deal with the problem, Piper said police work with mental health care workers at Northwestern Community Services, which is an area drug and mental health treatment provider. About 65% of the department's 71 officers have undergone 40 hours of crisis intervention treatment and are part of the department's Crisis Intervention Team that deals with people experiencing mental breakdowns or who are  in crisis.

Piper noted that overall arrests in Winchester rarely involve violence. Of the 2,668 arrests in 2018, just 1.6 % involved use of force. Of the 46,045 calls for service that year, force was used just 0.9 % of the time.

Piper said he plans to put use-of-force statistics for the last five years online in the next couple of months. This will include the race and sex of the suspects who were subjected to force. Piper personally views officer body camera footage when force is used, and the department's deadly force policies can be viewed online at winchesterpolice.org.

Winchester officers, whose starting salary is about $41,500 annually, receive six months of academy training and are partnered with field-training officers for their first 10 to 12 weeks on the job. They are not trained to use choke holds to make arrests and can only use them if they are fighting for their lives. They are trained to only briefly keep their knees on a suspect's back when handcuffing a prone suspect, and they are trained to not shoot at moving vehicles unless the driver is trying to kill them or a civilian or a passenger is shooting at them.

Sales noted that most police officers involved in high-profile, unjustified killings of Black people around the nation caught on video have been fired. However, in a nation that leads the world in incarceration with 2.2 million people in jails or prisons, many for non-violent drug crimes, the officers who killed Michael Brown in Missouri, Philando Castile in Minnesota, Terence Crutcher in Oklahoma, Eric Garner in New York and Tamir Rice in Ohio were either acquitted or not prosecuted.

In the case of Rice, a 12-year-old boy Cleveland with a BB gun in his waistband who was shot before being given a chance to surrender, Officer Timothy Loehmann was hired by another Ohio department after quitting in Cleveland. He quit days later after thousands of people complained about the hiring.

Piper and Taylor said there needs to be more transparency between police departments about disciplinary records when officers leave one department for another to avoid hiring problem officers. But they oppose making internal disciplinary reports public, saying it might open up their department to lawsuits by officers about privacy violations.

Since Floyd's death, Piper said city officers are spending more time walking beats to get to know residents better. The efforts are part of ongoing community policing initiatives. They include encouraging residents to ride along with officers and holding citizen, teen and youth police academies, as well as participating in community events like the annual North End Summer Kickoff.

While saying he wants police to partner with the community, Piper opposes the creation of a citizens review board that would have the power to discipline officers for misconduct. Responding to a question about review boards from Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, Piper said he would support a police chief's advisory board. It would consist of citizens who would meet monthly or quarterly with the chief to offer advice, community concerns and opinions.

"It needs to be diverse," Piper said. "It needs to be representative of the entire city of Winchester and not just a bunch of folks who want to come visit with the chief."

Responding to questions about traffic stops, Piper said drivers can ask to speak to an officer's supervisor during the stop if they feel they are being harassed. However, he advised they call the supervisor after the stop. They can also visit the department to make a complaint.

Another questioner said that a Winchester officer in the past had threatened to seize the phones of people who were filming an arrest as evidence. Piper said police don't need phone video as evidence because of body cameras and said it would be unconstitutional for police to seize phones. Taylor encouraged people to film arrests, noting it led to the arrest of Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd's death.

Besides police tactics, the discussion focused on systemic racism and the U.S.'s highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. Coyne said in 2014, about 21% of arrests in Winchester involved African-Americans, nearly double their population rate in the city. The percentages were nearly as high in Clarke and Frederick counties despite far smaller percentages of Black residents. About 20% of Virginians are Black, but Blacks comprise about 58% of the state's prison population.

Critics says the high percentage is due to strict drug laws and disproportionate drug arrests in mostly Black neighborhoods rather than mostly white suburbs, where the buyers of the drugs often return. Coyne said there needs to be a greater focus on alternatives to incarceration and cited the Northwest Regional Adult Drug Treatment Court, which started in 2016 as one local solution.

Smith urged Black people to be part of the solution to racism and said their fear of police and modern-day lynchings like the killings of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Ahmed Arbery in Georgia are real.

"Yes, we do feel like we're being targeted," said Smith, who is Black. "And it's not always police cars that you need to be afraid of because you have pickup trucks with Confederate flags driving next to you. So this is the community that we live in. This is the country that we live in. This is what we have to deal with."

— Contact Evan Goodenow at egoodenow@winchesterstar.com

(35) comments

Rsam

One solution is to stop incarcerating individual who commit non violent crimes. Fine them and mandate community service. Depending on the offense, there could also be some sort rehabilitative training.

Bernie Mac

Bryan is having a breakdown. Someone should call 911. Oh, wait, never mind.

rgsheppard

According to the article, Trayvan Martin was lynched. Wrong. He doubled back through the apartment complex to "teach the q...r a lesson" - his words, not mine. Martin initiated the violent encounter that lead to his own death. He is not a martyr.

Bryan.the.Nuri

Where did that synaptic misfire come from? Zimmermann was told multiple times to stand down, as he was not a law enforcement official.

Bernie Mac

This isn't difficult for normal people to understand. Martin attacked Zimmerman. Zimmerman defended himself. A police dispatcher has no legal authority. Period. Bryan, you are not right in your head. Get help.

rgsheppard

From the article, it doesn't seem there exists systemic racism. What wasn't explained is why a minority less than 13% of the population nationally is responsible for 95% of the violent crime. That explains the higher percentage of arrests. To be a Police Officer, you have to pass a polygraph. A lot of people, white-black-brown-etc, fail because of the financial and drug use questions that are asked. I hope the WPD won't lower their standards to be more "diversified".

Bryan.the.Nuri

ah yes... those canards...

95% of violent crime? can we see your stats?

Shouldn't we being raising the standards to be a police officer?

Doc Samson

@Bry - Speaking of stats, I'd still love to see those re: firearms, training, armed citizens stopping crime, etc. Or is that all in the past now, and you've moved on to more important outrage?

Bryan.the.Nuri

You mean the stats that show very very few crimes are stopped by civilians?

Doc Samson

Yes, Bry, those.

rgsheppard

Go search the FBI or DOJ Crime Statistics. The weekend before the forum, there were 104 shootings and 14 black on black homicides in Chicago. No protesters, no media, no Rev Al Sharptons. Why? - because the community would be accountability and couldn't claim themselves as victims. Police standards should be high, but some departments dumb it down for diversity hiring. That is wrong.

Ali

"dumb it down for diversity hiring".....that says all we need to know about you.

Bryan.the.Nuri

I have looked and looked and cannot find where the FBI or DOJ claim 95% crime rates for blacks. That leaves only 5% for other races?

Journey2goremtns1

And Black Lives Matter is not a humanitarian group! It's a radical socialist group! Now that I'm a redneck I need to go buy a pickup truck...

Bryan.the.Nuri

Define socialism and how it applies to BLM

Doc Samson

Oh, Bry, so easily shut down - https://www.socialistworld.net/2020/06/13/you-fight-capitalism-with-socialism-blm-and-socialist-struggle/

Bryan.the.Nuri

Not a definition. Learn how to actually back your arguments.

You're done.

Doc Samson

Lol, if that means with you, by all means. And, it's okay to say you didn't read it or that it had many words that were hard to understand... We all know your comprehension skills are ret@... er, delayed...

Journey2goremtns1

One more thing! Why does it have to be a pickup truck? So, if your driving a pickup truck and you have a Confederate flag or decal your a redneck racist! Got it!

Bryan.the.Nuri

Being a redneck is not a race. It's a choice.

And you seem awfully worked up just because you "fit the description". Now you know what it's like.

Doc Samson

Kind of like getting pregnant in, oh, 97.8% of the cases, right? Remember that issue or is it too far in the past for you?

Bryan.the.Nuri

What do pregnancy rates have to do with this?

Journey2goremtns1

"Yes, we do feel like we're being targeted," said Smith, who is Black. "And it's not always police cars that you need to be afraid of because you have pickup trucks with Confederate flags driving next to you. So this is the community that we live in. This is the country that we live in. This is what we have to deal with." So let me see if I get this....So in order not to be racist, a white person needs to ask a black person if he or she is offended by a decal before placing it on his vehicle? Oh, okay I get.

Ali

It would be just common sense that a decal of a flag that sought to keep your ancestors in slavery and has since been often used by radical groups dedicated to the belief that you are inferior should be seen as offensive.

Doc Samson

I'm happy to see more black conservatives speaking up against the continuation of a constant, never-ending victim mentality. It's easy to see racism everywhere when everything is judged by someone's skin color rather than by the content of their character, i.e. personal choices and accountability. If talks of reparations are on the table, well, why aren't all the Leftists packing up to move back to their countries of origin so we can let the Native Americans back onto their rightful lands?

Bryan.the.Nuri

Maybe you could have shown up to espouse your idea that "you people just need to stop whining and get to work!"

Oh, right, you won't do anything more than troll...

Doc Samson

You have no idea what I do in my non-internet time, little man...

Also, you are the one who misquotes intentionally, seems to always miss the point, and then asks borderline ret@... er, intellectually challenged questions, troll.

Ali

You apparently don't have much non-internet time.

Bryan.the.Nuri

Better than being a rank coward...

Maybe you should back your words up and go down to the next BLM march and announce your solution to the problems of blacks. Attend the next NAACP meeting and tell them that the ghettos are problems of their own making? You won't, because you can't be seen owning your repulsive words.

Doc Samson

@Ali - Takes very little time to respond to stupidity... And why do you care??? Unless... wait, are you Bry's "alter ego"? You two do seem to espouse the same exact opinions. Taking a page from the ol' "Doc Samson/Bernie Mac" playbook, eh? lol...

Ali

At least be original, Doc.

Anna Thomson

Suggestion: advertise in advance so any person who feels that police use of force was excessive, or the conduct was inappropriate, or the justice system too harsh or a change needs to be made somewhere, can submit something so the public can see it and perhaps comment.Everyone in this area knows changes are needed. PT

davism412

The forum was announced in The Star last week. But you're right--not a lot of high-profile advertising for it, unfortunately. I'm heartened, though, that so many attended online (in-person seating was, of course, limited due to covid, and registration was required).

ginamcintire

I’m sure if you have something you feel needs reviewed and you submit it to the offending police department it will be addressed. Especially now. I’m assuming that you are willing to write it down. Let’s all remember that law enforcement folks are human too. We hold them to unattainable standards. At times we expect them to attain double standards. Parents teach your children how to behave (or not) at a traffic stop. Don’t teach them to fear police “ if you do that the police will come and take you to jail” if you tell your little kids that it will make them fear police and that fear WILL stay with them even after they are “grown”. Yes there are some bad apples out there. There are also bad lawyers, judges, coaches, pastors, teachers and parents. We all fail at times. Hopefully it doesn’t result in the death of another person, but if it does savage mobs beating up a lone person is how animals behave not humans. We all agree that the excessive use of force on Mr. Floyd was uncalled for. So there needs to be changes in take downs and holds. How about cuffing the feet as well then let them up? We have all this new textile technology there has to be something that will be strong enough to help with this. No one person will have all the answers. We must work together.

Anna Thomson

agreed

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