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Caring for Those in Police Custody

Shortly after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, protests and civil unrest sprang up in cities around the United States, including in many South Carolina communities.

The rolling nationwide event dramatically renewed conversations about police work and race. Some cities have developed committees and resident panels to consider local policing operations. Some have established new duty-to-intervene policies requiring officers to take action when they see other officers using excessive force.

The Municipal Association of South Carolina Virtual Annual Meeting dug into the topic through videos from the Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute. The Association's SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund often makes LLRMI training materials available to its members. The videos featured for the Virtual Annual Meeting are available to anyone through the Annual Meeting web page.

The video presentations feature Jack Ryan, co-director of LLRMI, attorney and retired police officer. In one video, initially released days after the killing of George Floyd, Ryan discussed how many in the law enforcement community were quick to acknowledge that officers' conduct in that case was unacceptable.

"It always has to be recognized that anytime we take custody of someone, we now owe them a duty of care in addition to taking custody of them," Ryan said.

He added that duty of care takes into account injuries, illnesses, the method of restraint, and making sure that the person in custody is not in physical distress.

In training officers, Ryan said he had long stressed to officers that "as soon as the person is subdued or restrained, then get off of them and get them into a rescue position. Get them to an upright position, or get them to their side to facilitate breathing."

Ryan noted that officers who witness conduct from other officers that could cause injury or demonstrate excessive force have a duty to intervene.

"Excessive [force], whether it's malicious or not, it's still excessive when you stay on top of somebody with your knee on their neck," he said.

While officers may need to use body weight to stabilize a person for handcuffing, they should avoid applying weight to the middle of the back and the neck, and avoid prolonged weight application, he said.

"Restraint, in a prone position, for a long period of time, with weight on the subject, is not going to be consistent with generally accepted policies, practices, training and even legal mandates with respect to use of force," Ryan said.

Other LLRMI videos featured as part of the Virtual Annual Meeting examined law enforcement aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ryan explored the considerations involved in decontaminating police work stations. Patrol cars, for example, can transport multiple prisoners in a shift and would need to be thoroughly disinfected when being handed from one officer to another.

When coronavirus began to spread rapidly in March, Ryan said, many agencies eliminated in-person roll call and moved to supervisors briefing officers at the beginning of their shifts over communications channels.

Another highlighted video looked at first-responder exceptions to the privacy disclosure requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. For example, disclosure is allowed when it is needed to provide treatment, when needed to prevent the spread of a disease or when first responders may be at risk of infection.