Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Local faith leaders, including Father Troy Overton, pastor of St. Edward Church, met with the chief on June 19 at the LMPD headquaters.
At a press conference afterward, CLOUT’s co-president, the Rev. Reginald Barnes, said LMPD has good policies in place already, but they are not being followed.
“We have many friends and loved ones in our congregations with mental illness and addiction who live in fear of potential encounters with police. Cases of police shootings of persons with mental illness and these health conditions contribute to this fear,” said Rev. Barnes.
“In general we believe that LMPD’s overall policy and practice should be that officers always lead with de-escalation unless there’s an active shooter or some immediate life-threatening situation,” he said.
Chris Finzer, a member of St. John Paul II Church and chair of CLOUT’s mental health and addiction committee, called for a “softer approach.”
He said such an approach asks officers to use a friendlier tone of voice, keep an adequate distance between the suspect and themselves and give the suspect time to process what the officer is saying, for instance.
Members of CLOUT would also like officers to avoid the practice of automatically pointing a gun at individuals during an arrest, Finzer said.
He said CLOUT also asked Conrad to change the way the department investigates police shootings.
Rev. Barnes said the police chief agreed to look into CLOUT’s concerns and has committed to another meeting in August. He said Conrad also invited members of CLOUT to attend ICAT (Integrating Communication and Tactics) training later in the year. The training is focused on the practical things officers need to do in order to defuse a situation without using force.
CLOUT said Conrad also indicated members of his staff could meet with CLOUT to discuss how shooting investigations are conducted.
Father Overton said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
“I really thought there was an openness on both parts to working together,” he said, noting that the police chief “was willing to include us as observers in their training process.”
“This is an opportunity to educate us and to have a level conversation,” said Father Overton.
Members of CLOUT understand the reality officers deal with, Father Overton added.
“We made a good case that we’re concerned about the officers’ safety as well,” he said.
Finzer said the decision to bring this issue to local police was made at one of CLOUT’s annual Nehemiah Action Assemblies, where members gather to talk about social issues.
He added it’s important that members of the faithful get involved in working for justice.
“Catholic teaching is such that worship is important, but working for justice is important, too,” he said.