‘How do we move from here?’: Local police talk policy, culture in wake of George Floyd’s killing

ROANOKE, Va. – In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, law enforcement officials in Southwest Virginia are speaking out about their training, accreditation and ways to work with the community to improve.

According to Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall, effective policing is complex and there’s not just one simple fix for the tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis.

“I don’t know of any police department that trains to, you know, put your knee on somebody’s neck or somebody’s head,” said Hall.

In Virginia, all law enforcement officers have one year to meet minimum training standards set by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, including on use of force and deescalation. Though after that, there can be a lot of variation between police departments.

Hall’s department is nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which holds them to stricter requirements.

“It forces, almost, law enforcement agencies to be very transparent," said Rick Morrison, who retired from the Roanoke City Police Department as a captain and now works as a law enforcement consultant.

Morrison said the cost, time and manpower needed to get certified can be a barrier for smaller departments.

Out of about 18,000 police departments across the U.S., only about 1,800 are CALEA accredited, including several from Southwest and Central Virginia. The Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Lynchburg and Blacksburg Police Departments are just a few that made the cut.

“It doesn’t matter what the size or your geographic location is, there should always be a standard, a known standard of training, of conduct,” said Morrison. “So that not just the officers, the agencies, know. But equally important, that the community knows and expects.”

Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea would like to see more training, and not just for police.

“I would suggest training, not only officers more, but also the public,” said Lea. "Be involved in their training, see what training is going on to get suggestions from them."

Morrison said that real change stems from the culture at each department.

“You can have all the policies in the world, but if you don’t follow them, what’s the point?" said Morrison. “That’s where meaningful leadership comes in and community engagement and dialogue. That’s where culture changes."

Democrats plan to introduce a new police reform bill on Monday, which would address excessive use of force, qualified immunity and racial profiling. It is not clear if it would pass the Democratic-held House and the Republican-held Senate.

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