Rhode Island’s law enforcement leaders agree: Tyre Nichols should not be dead.
Ocean State police chiefs have universally condemned the beating death in Tennessee, roughly 1,200 miles south, which was captured on video and resulted in criminal charges against the involved officers.
Lt. Col. Darnell S. Weaver, the first person of color to lead the Rhode Island State Police (RISP), sent condolences to the Nichols family and released an unequivocal statement.
“The Rhode Island State Police strongly condemns the sickening violence perpetrated by the five Memphis officers who brutally beat Tyre Nichols,” Weaver, a 28-year veteran trooper, said. “The investigation, indictment and subsequent criminal charges against these five officers was absolutely the right course of action. Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect the members of the community they serve. Not only did they fail to discharge their duties, but their wanton disregard for his suffering was inhumane. Their actions do not reflect the values or training of our profession in any way. We send our deepest condolences to the Nichols family and will keep them in our thoughts and in our hearts as they mourn Tyre.”
Local department chiefs released statements addressing the killing in Tennessee.
“The video incident is difficult to watch and is not emblematic of the large majority of police officers who serve across the country with the utmost professionalism and integrity,” said Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael J. Winquist. “In Cranston and Rhode Island as a whole, police leadership has invested in the very best training and education. We are dedicated to continuing to evolve to exceed the high expectations that are required to earn and maintain public trust. Recruiting and retaining officers committed to community-focused policing must be a priority. State investment for a modern facility to train our police academies and offer continuing education is a critical component in ensuring we attract the very best candidates to our profession.”
Johnston Police Chief Mark A. Vieira shared his reaction to the video footage of Nichols’ beating death.
“Having viewed the recently released body camera footage from the Memphis Police Department, I am deeply shocked and saddened by the actions of the officers involved,” Vieira said Monday. “ I, and the entire Johnston Police Department, offer condolences to the family of Tyre Nichols. The inhumane actions of the Memphis police officers were not reflective of the ideals the officers of the Johnston Police Department have sworn to uphold. We are committed to serve and protect our community and its residents based on fairness, equality, and dignity. I believe that justice through the judicial system will be found for Tyre Nichols and his family.”
The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA) released a statement following the video release:
“The actions of the five former Memphis Police officers demonstrated a lack of humanity, a breach of morals, and a blatant disregard for the oath law enforcement officers take to protect and serve. Their actions do not represent Rhode Island’s police officers, nor the progress that we have made in the profession across our state in recent years.”
The Jan. 7 Memphis case follows a spate of similar fatal police brutality reports from across the country. In this case, however, while the victim was Black, so are the police officers charged in his beating. The killing has triggered a complicated wave of reactions.
“Exemplary police officers seek to make their community a little bit better everyday, and do their job guided by a clear set of values and morals,” the RIPCA statement continues. “However, their success is also dependent on having access to proper training and working under appropriate supervision. In Rhode Island, we work everyday to ensure our residents are served professionally and compassionately by officers who are well-trained, of high character and committed to public safety for all. As police chiefs, it is our duty to make sure that we are hiring and developing officers who meet the high standards of behavior that we expect and that our residents deserve. It is also our responsibility to make available the modern training opportunities and resources our officers and command staff need to provide professional, high-quality service.”
RIPCA has been completing a job task analysis, “which will clearly outline the duties, responsibilities and professional expectations for potential police officers in Rhode Island,” according to the agency. “Once completed, it will help us assess and modify our current police recruit training curriculum in accordance with those identified expectations.”
Representatives from the state’s Chiefs Association also met with Gov. Dan McKee “to discuss the possibility for a professional training facility that would serve all of Rhode Island’s police recruits, as well as offer in-service training for current officers and department leadership.”
“The initiatives that we are pursuing will continue to build on the progress that we have made, with the goal of ensuring that we in Rhode Island are hiring and developing officers and future police leaders who will be assets to their communities and agencies, and will carry the law enforcement profession forward,” according to RIPCA. “Rhode Island’s law enforcement agencies work everyday to keep their communities safe, and the members of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association remain committed to ensuring this work is done to the highest degree of professionalism and excellence.”
The five officers shown on video beating Nichols have been fired and charged with murder.
Last week, Memphis Police strategically released the video after schools let out for the day, and most businesses were closed. Cities across the nation prepared for potential violence following the dissemination.
The Ocean State’s law enforcement community, and particularly its chiefs, spent time reflecting on the killing in Memphis.
Warwick Police Chief Col. Bradford Connor also echoed RIPCA’s sentiments.
“What occurred in Memphis was not a representation of the fine women and men that wear the uniform and swore an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Rhode Island,” Connor said Monday. “In Warwick we pride ourselves on recruiting only the finest individuals with high moral standards and instilling them with the values of our agency. Like our partners we then provide them with modernized training and hold them to a high ethical standard.”
Chiefs are also asking themselves: What next?
“Moving forward we will continue to work with our community partners to help strengthen the relationship between the community and its police department and honor our commitment of transparency and professionalism,” Connor said. “We will also be looking at ways to better train our new officers and further our efforts for in-service training for our more experienced officers. We hope to do this through the development of a professional training facility that would serve all of Rhode Island.”
The Memphis murder has furthered a nationwide conversation on police violence. ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown argued the time for change arrived years ago.
“It has been almost three years since the death of George Floyd, yet no meaningful police reform legislation has been adopted in Rhode Island since then,” Brown said Monday. The tragic death of Tyre Nichols only heightens the urgent need for action this session.”
He called out the legislature’s failure to act on numerous pieces of police reform legislation.
“For at least a few years, bills to promote police reform have been introduced but gone nowhere,” Brown said. “If the police are serious about promoting greater oversight and accountability, 2023 should be the year that legislation is finally passed to promote greater access to police investigations of officer misconduct, to reinstate required data collection of traffic stops to address the serious racial disparities that exist in that police practice, and to reform the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. It is time to stop talking about the need for reform and to finally actually enact some.”
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