Jeff Watts

Jeff Watts

President Joe Biden has expressed many ideas to help reform the criminal justice system, including how police departments should operate.

Biden mentioned several things on his campaign website that he would like to enforce.

Some of those things include: banning the chokehold, restoring trust between communities and the police, stopping military weapons and much more.

Stillwater Police Chief Jeff Watts spoke about how he felt about the new president’s ideas around policing and criminal justice reform.

Banning chokeholds

Watts was very specific about the difference between a chokehold and a neck restraint. While a chokehold can be very damaging to someone and has the possibility to kill them, a neck restraint will make them pass out in four to seven seconds.

This gives officers an opportunity to quickly take control of an escalating situation without use of force.

Stillwater officers are trained in the neck restraints, even though it hasn’t been used in over a decade, Watts said.

“When they say no chokeholds, we have always agreed with that. No one should be choking someone. Unless it is a life or death situation, then they shouldn’t be using a chokehold,” Watts said.

In a situation in which an officer or someone is in imminent danger, a chokehold would be used, just like a gun, taser or pepper spray.

“In the past, we would use a neck restraint when trying to restrain someone that we could not restrain under normal means,” Watts said.

Watts said while simply getting someone into that position, many times the suspect would stop fighting, and police didn’t have to result in using other weapons.

Stopping the transfer of weapons of war to police forces

Watts gave a scenario of someone going through a mental breakdown, and barricading themselves into their residence, with weapons.

“Realistically we have about three choices. We can force you out of the house someway which means we deploy chemicals into the house, tear gas or something along that line and force you out. Which if you're armed and we force you out what is likely going to happen, there's gonna be now be a lethal confrontation because I pushed you out of the house and you're armed,” Watts said.

He continued with the second option being “the police just leave and the neighbors and everyone else has to deal with this armed dangerous person.”

Watts said obviously that isn’t an option because police are there to protect.

“Our next option would be we can put a designated marksman, a sniper whatever you want to call him, someone who is very proficient with a rifle at a distance and when they see this guy they can kill him,” Watts said.

The chief continued with explaining what a better option would be.

An MRAP is 30 tons and bullet resistant, which keeps officers safe. An MRAP also can poke holes through the house, forcing the person out.

“They see the big giant MRAP show up and they just walk out and say, ‘I quit,'” Watts said.

The chief said with 80 officers, firearms can be costly, and cost the community tax payers money that could otherwise be used elsewhere.

They receive the same firearms from the military for free.

Watts did say the officers aren’t provided with weapons of war, but provided with equipment to protect.

“The military does not provide us with rocket launchers and grenades. They provide us with equipment to protect people, more than they provide us with weapons of war,” Watts said.

Community policing

Watts questioned what community policing is.

“Well, I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what their version of that is, but I know what our version of what it is,” he said.

In Stillwater, the officers are able to have positive community contact versus if they were working in an area such as Oklahoma City or Tulsa.

“Our version of what it is, is what we do every day. We are engaged with the community,” Watts said.

But, not every agency has the ability to be involved in the community because they are going to calls from the time they start work until they finish work.

“So, what does community policing look like in a city where their officers have no time to just engage the public? What does that look like compared to what it looks like here? So, I don’t know what their concept of community policing is,” he said.

Watts spoke about many things, but the main takeaway is that each police agency and community is different.

There isn’t a “blanket effect” in which every agency can have the exact same policies, because each state has different laws and values.

Watts suggested that politicians should consult with law enforcement officers about what their job is, before signing things into law, otherwise, things could get dangerous.

“We’re the only group that I know of that people who have no knowledge of what we do, want to make our rules,” he said.

Watts said medical professionals write the rules for medical work, journalists write the guidelines for journalism, but who writes the policies for police?

His response?

“Politicians, so think about that, you said it could be dangerous and that is absolutely right,” he said.

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