Recent high-profile incidents of police violence have led to a breakdown of trust in law enforcement. We have seen citizens rising up across the nation to demand accountability and have been stunned to see how some protests have turned violent.
The Black Lives Matter block walk held in Victoria on June 7 told a different story. The Victoria Police Department, Victoria Fire Department and other agencies coordinated with organizers, helping to arrange a path and ensuring personnel were on hand to provide water and help demonstrators safely cross streets. Everyone behaved with mutual respect.
Our positive relationship with the community is not something we take for granted. Upholding our core values of integrity, professionalism, pride in service and respect has helped us to build a foundation of trust so when a tragedy such as the death of George Floyd sparks animosity toward law enforcement, Victorians know they can still rely on us.
The Victoria Police Department has been consistently honored by the Texas Police Chiefs Association’s recognition program since 2009. This gold-standard recognition, which is awarded for four-year terms, honors law enforcement agencies that comply with the association’s 166 best practices, guidelines designed to facilitate effective service, reduce risk and protect the rights of citizens. Fewer than 200 agencies have been recognized since the program began, and we are proud to be one of a handful to be recognized for three consecutive terms. The Victoria Police Department is ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing policies that protect citizens. On June 16, the Trump administration banned the use of chokeholds in situations that are not life-threatening. Our department implemented the same rule years ago.
We build relationships by providing people with opportunities to get to know our officers and share their concerns. For years, we have hosted town halls in each of our policing zones to learn more about issues that affect each part of Victoria. Our officers attend and host numerous events to connect with the community and build lifelong relationships with the citizens we took an oath to protect. We also use social media to connect with citizens and provide timely, up-to-date and reliable information.
During the past five years, we have averaged about 16 complaints per year out of an average of 95,000 service calls per year, and every complaint is handled with a thoroughness comparable to the rigor of a criminal investigation. First, our Internal Affairs Unit conducts interviews, gathers evidence and compiles a complaint file. This report is reviewed at every level from the patrol sergeant up to the chief of police in order to ensure accountability. Finally, the complaint is reviewed by a committee, which recommends a disposition to the chief, who decides whether any discipline or other action should take place.
If a resident alleges an officer has committed a crime, we request that the Texas Rangers conduct a parallel investigation. We also ask the Rangers to investigate every officer-involved shooting, of which there have been only five during my 24 years with the police department, and only one resulted in a loss of life.
The complaint files and the dispositions of each are subject to disclosure under public record laws. However, certain identifying information is kept confidential as required by law. These records legally must be kept on file for 15 years.
Our department’s high standards helped us to respond appropriately several years ago when one of our officers used a Taser on an older gentleman. We promptly released the dashcam footage, and our review process led to the officer in question being fired. Chief J.J. Craig then reached out to community leaders to re-establish relationships and ensure the officer’s actions did not ruin the trust between them. By living out our core values and standards of conduct, we have largely avoided the types of incidents seen in other communities, and those that do occur are taken seriously.
COVID-19 has forced us to postpone our town hall meetings, which are usually held in the summer, but we hope to reschedule these and are exploring different format options. We want to serve Victoria to the best of our ability, and we welcome your feedback about how to do that. To file a complaint or submit a compliment, call 361-485-3714 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
J. Mark Jameson is the interim police chief of the Victoria Police Department.