As they prepare to respond to a series of police reforms submitted to the city last month, the Huntsville Police Department spent more than two hours going through various aspects of their department.
During the Huntsville City Council work session Wednesday night, Chief Mark McMurray along with seven other members of police leadership addressed the council to explain various aspects of how the department operates.
"We're in challenging times now across the country. So this type of communication is very important to all of us," McMurray said.
He said since he started with the department, McMurray has been working to guide the police force in part using the guidelines of the six pillars established by The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing created in 2015:
- Building Trust & Legitimacy
- Policy & Oversight
- Technology & Social Media
- Community Policing & Crime Reduction
- Training & Education
- Officer Wellness & Safety
Captain DeWayne McCarver spoke about the training that officers go through both first as recruits as well as ongoing training, like cultural diversity training. He said part of that includes taking cadets down to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum.
"We want them to understand the history of the Civil Rights Movement and cultural situations and differences among our community," McCarver said.
He said an important part of the ongoing training was to establish implicit bias training with the help of Delois Hunter Smith, the vice president of multicultural affairs at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
"We all sat down and we worked to create a program that was specific to the police, not just some corporate thing. We did something that we felt like would really impact cops and let them understand what biases are and where their biases may be so that they can work to de-bias themselves through education and understanding and awareness," McCarver said.
McCarver the graduation rate in the Huntsville Police Academy has been about 70 percent since 2016. He said the reason for that is because during the training process they are also evaluating the temperament of officers to handle the job.
He added that all officers with Huntsville Police get about 40 additional hours of training each year compared to the 12 required by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission (APOSTC).
During Wednesday's presentation, officials also discussed how officers are disciplined. While talking about upholding professional standards, Lt. Jon Ware said that between 2015 and 2020, 10 employees resigned while under investigation and that 10 employees were terminated.
He noted that 11 of the 20 happened within the last 12 months, but didn't elaborate.
Ware also pointed to some changes to how the department deals with polygraphs conducted by the department. Last year, HPD conducted 196 polygraph examinations, both criminal and pre-employment.
"In 2016, the chief found out that we did not check for bias-based questions in our background or in our polygraph examination. He immediately directed us to add that in and that was four years ago," Ware said. "He had just taken office, he was reviewing the employment procedure, found out that we did not do that and we immediately fixed that."
At one point as Deputy Chief Kirk Giles was describing the new Huntsville Police/FBI Firing Range, a man in the audience interjected to ask "Who are y'all going to be shooting at?"
Giles stopped speaking and Council President Devyn Keith warned that any additional outbursts by members of the audience would result in their removal.
Minutes later, the man interjected again:
"Who are y'all going to be shooting at? Who are you trying to shoot? You going to brag on the shooting range, who are you shooting at?"
He was then escorted out of the council chamber.
Following the multiple presentations, McMurray came back to the lectern to state that they were starting to put some of the requests from residents into place, like creating a Portal system where people can read the department's written directives. He also said there would be a new policy committee within the department that will be getting off the ground soon.
"It's going to be run by a captain and three lieutenants. I haven't told them yet, but they're going to review policies every two weeks. They're going to meet once every two weeks. And what they're going to do is review written directives because we have directives that don't get reviewed enough," McMurray said.
After his remarks, council members were able to offer their remarks and ask questions. Councilwoman Frances Akridge said that her constituents wanted to know more about the day-to-day operations of the department and argued that many of them are afraid to come forward to police.
"There's been some clarity on inconsistent discretion used from one... different... if you're a bunch of kids drinking beer at a park in southeast Huntsville, you're told to pour it out. But if you're up in northwest Huntsville, the cuffs go on. These are the kinds of things on a day-to-day basis that people are still hurting about and want to know more about," Akridge said.
She also said that she expected the department to address some of the points of police reform called for by groups like the Citizens Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform.
On Friday, McMurray said the department will release written responses to those points.
One of the points from that group’s list that Akridge brought up to McMurry regarded publishing crime maps for public consumption.
“We’re in a delay process. We do hope to go live by the end of this year and then at that time, we’ll make the decision on the crime mappings that you’re looking for, what levels,” McMurray said.
During his round of questioning, Keith called for greater cultural diversity in the department with things like more Spanish-speaking officers and more female officers. But he added the racial diversity is extremely important.
“African-Americans need to have some version of an individual that either looks like them or individuals from the community that is being policed to become champions of that badge,” Keith said.
McCarver responded by saying that the hiring over the past three years has been more reflective of the community, but said they are up against an issue of trust.
“A lot of our Hispanic and Black community, they don’t trust us. They don’t feel like they are welcome as a police officer. And so that’s what our recruiters’ jobs are really to do, to go out there and make personal relationships, build relationships and encourage those members of our community to come and apply and to be a part,” McCarver said.
In the meantime, the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council (HPCAC) is working on its review of how the Huntsville Police Department handled the protests in early June and will create a report for the council.
Public comment for that is open until August 7 and will be followed by in-person listening sessions, which will likely be held in the council chamber over multiple days.
For more information on the Huntsville Police presentation, click here.