Friday, April 16, 2021

New First Amendment policy responds to community requests

On March 23, our Board of Police Commissioners approved a policy that we have been working toward since early last summer: the First Amendment Protected Activities Policy.

This was a reform requested by our community. The new policy establishes guidelines and procedures for department members when engaging with individuals participating in First Amendment-protected activities.

We take an oath to uphold the Constitution, to include the First Amendment. Protecting everyone’s right to expression is integral to our mission.  

The department did extensive legal research and looked into best practices nationwide to draft the new policy. Members met with community stakeholders, city leaders, prosecutors and others to create the policy that addresses community concerns. As the policy was being created, we revised it multiple times in response to their suggestions.

The new policy directs members to minimize displays of force. It states, “The display of armored vehicles, personal protective equipment or other displays of force will be minimized to the extent safely possible.”

 It also states, “Members will make all reasonable efforts to allow law-abiding individuals to continue to exercise their First Amendment protected rights, and will focus efforts on those individuals in the active assembly who violate the law.”

The First Amendment Policy explicitly prohibits officers from using less-lethal weapons and munitions – other than chemical agents –  to disperse crowds in the event of an unlawful assembly.

We have listened to the changes the community wanted to see, and we have implemented them. We are here to support and protect the exercise of First Amendment rights. More times than I can count, officers have risked their personal safety to shield a demonstrator from violence by a counter-protestor or something similar. We have blocked streets to protect marchers from vehicles on numerous occasions, as we have also protected drivers.

We ask that participants do their part, as well, by respecting the safety and property of others, as the law requires at all other times. It is our duty to balance the freedom of expression with public safety. We are willing to work with any group or individual to coordinate the successful exercise their constitutional rights.

We are working hard to support First Amendment rights, and we look forward to the community supporting the rights of everyone to be safe and secure, as well.

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