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Annual Meeting to Address Deescalation, Police Reform

Civility in governance, as well as the state of police policies and procedures, will be at the core of many of the sessions during the Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting, taking place July 14 – 17 in Charleston.

The sessions aim to help local officials better understand how to improve the effectiveness of the governing process, and to make encounters between residents and their law enforcement officers safer. The full agenda is available at www.masc.sc (keyword: Annual Meeting), but a few highlights include the session on “Verbal Judo,” and the sessions on current law enforcement practices and requirements. 

Verbal Judo: Tactical Communication in Public Forums
The Verbal Judo Institute offers involved coursework to audiences internationally in the skills needed for effective persuasion and conflict resolution. Alex Bromley, one of the institute’s instructors, will provide an overview of the key skills that it teaches during the last general session on July 14. Bromley has a law enforcement background and works as a detective in New Jersey. 

Bromley described Verbal Judo classes as valuable for handling arguments or verbal attacks in both professional and personal life. He said the curriculum is useful for “contact professionals” — anyone who must interact with the general public regularly. He said a common misconception is that the material is useful only for law enforcement or security officers.
 
“It is really for anybody that deals with the public, and anybody that can be in a position where they face conflict and may need to deescalate and then come to an appropriate resolution,” he said. 


Alex Bromley

Bromley’s students have included many government officials, both elected officials and staff, and city building inspectors stand out as a category where conflict is part of the work. Purposeful and skilled communication, he said, is critical in the government sector.

“If we are public employees and we’re struggling to effectively communicate, there could be major issues within a community — definitely at the governmental level where they’re the decision makers,” he said.

Communication technology and public expectations have made government officials more accessible than ever, and Bromley noted that they need to have their communication skills as sharp as possible.

“If they’re not, he said, “you’re looking at a tumultuous relationship between the citizens of the community and their elected officials.”  

Other civility-related sessions at the Annual Meeting include Matt Lehrman of Social Prosperity Partners, who will deliver both the keynote and a preconference session on how to pursue the difficult conversations that can defuse conflict. Another session will delve into the communication pitfalls that elected officials can face when using social media. 

Policing in the Reform Movement: What Councils Need to Know
The 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police when an officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes led to nationwide conversations about the role of force in law enforcement work, as well as widespread unrest and reform efforts. 

In South Carolina, the General Assembly passed a law enforcement reform bill at the end of the 2022 session. Among other requirements, the law requires the SC Law Enforcement Training Council to develop training on chokeholds and carotid holds. It also requires minimum standards for all law enforcement agencies, including an officer’s duty to intervene in certain actions of other observed officers. 

In a concurrent session on July 14, Jack Ryan of the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute will discuss what city and town councils should know about the state of law enforcement reform. 

Ryan has noted that police have not verbalized support for the actions of the Minneapolis officers, and that “there is widespread agreement that the actions of the officers amounted to unreasonable force and the failure to intervene.”

His presentations have explained the nature of chokeholds and carotid holds, among the other issues that have come up in the aftermath of the George Floyd case. Choke holds, for example, aim to reduce or stop the flow of oxygen. Because of the danger of fatalities, they are banned by most law enforcement agencies in most cases. Carotid holds, on the other hand, reduce blood flow to the brain, and when properly used can make a person unconscious within seconds. 

In terms of the duty to intervene when observing excessive force, Ryan has noted that federal courts have determined for decades that officers have a duty to stop observed violations of a person’s constitutional rights. Failing to render aid to a person, even in a case where officers used force reasonably, can also be a violation of constitutional rights.

Law enforcement topics will also feature in the concurrent sessions taking place on the afternoon of July 15 geared toward municipalities of different population sizes. For the cities  with populations below 5,000, the “Police Reform Q&A” session will feature Williamston Police Chief Tony Taylor as well as the Association’s Director of Risk Management Services Heather Ricard and Loss Control Manager Bethany Pendley.  For the cities above 20,000, the Columbia Police Department will present on the safety initiatives of its Hospitality District Task Force. 

Find more details and agenda information about the Annual Meeting online.