Pullman Police review use of force policies

National conversation of police injustice, racism in the U.S. guided policy change



Police Chief Gary Jenkins said the public’s perception of the chokehold is important in determining whether the community trusts the police.

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

The Pullman Police Department will review its policies on use-of-force, with the police chief saying they are reconsidering the use of “chokeholds,” or vascular neck restraint, on suspects. 

Police Chief Gary Jenkins said the vascular neck restraint is non-lethal but can look worse than it is. The public’s perception of the chokehold is important to whether the community trusts the police, he said. 

“The bottom line is we work for our community,” Jenkins said. 

Lexipol, a law enforcement review agency, provides Pullman police with a manual that works with national and state legislation to guide policies and officer training. Once Jenkins and other department heads look through it, he said they will adjust to fit the unique community of Pullman. 

Jenkins said he sent the updated police manual to the local police union, which may come back with negotiations about certain policies. However, as chief, Jenkins said he can implement policies even without direct approval, though it could result in a complaint by the union against him.

The national conversation of police injustice and its ties to racism in the U.S. guided much of this need for policy change, Jenkins said.

 “Even if we do something we believe is absolutely safe and effective, if our community does not accept it, then it’s something we need to look at addressing,” Jenkins said. 

A report from The Spokesman-Review found that while Black residents make up 3 percent of the Pullman population, they accounted for 12 percent of the arrests in 2019. Of the 12 people that police officers used a stun gun on, five of them were Black, according to the report. Two officers at the department specifically had high arrest and use-of-force rates towards Black residents — officers Alex Gordon and Wade Winegardner. 

The manual will also examine officer training, Jenkins said. Washington state and federal legislation could also change how officers are legally allowed to handle these incidents, he said.

Recently, the enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders also contributed to this rethinking of police training, Jenkins said. 

After Whitman County Watch reported on an incident where an officer told a group of residents that they should move the party inside rather than write an infraction, Jenkins said he and his supervisors started to review bodycam footage of all calls officers answered. 

Before, viewing bodycam footage was on a random basis, he said. 

“When those came out I did provide clear direction of what our messaging is … since that time, it’s been good,” Jenkins said.