HOPEWELL BOROUGH: Police offer insight into use of force, bias

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By Frank Mustac, Contributor
In the wake of recent police shootings and the public outcry that followed in recent months, Hopewell Township Police Chief Lance Maloney outlined efforts and policies already in place at the local level that deal with safety and security in the municipality.
During the Township Committee meeting on Sept. 12, Chief Maloney and Sgt. Michael Cseremsak, the head of training at the police department, discussed protocols used by police in de-escalation efforts, as well as the extent of the use of force.
“The use of force is not taken lightly, and we understand that it should only be used when absolutely necessary and de-escalation techniques have been exhausted,” Chief Maloney said. “We also understand we have the obligation as leaders of this department to make sure our officers police in a manner that’s fair and impartial.”
The discussion was the second of its kind in nearly as many months, as the committee originally called for a midday meeting with the department back in July to discuss those topics and the bias-awareness training that law enforcement officers receive.
They were requested to speak again for an evening meeting later in July when members of the pubic would have a better opportunity to attend, but had to reschedule and instead appeared on Monday.
“This is in response to some residents in the community who had some questions about what our practices were in the township,” Committeewoman Julie Blake said.
Chief Maloney explained that the Hopewell Township Police Department “is very aware of the issues concerning the use of force occurring nationally, and we continue to take steps to ensure that our officers perform to the high standards that we as a community expect from them.”
Sgt. Cseremsak spoke, as he similarly did at the July midday meeting, about the different levels or categories of use of force within the department, and which categories require police officers to document a specific incident with a formal written report.
In 2015, there were nine incidents in Hopewell Township when police used force. So far in 2016, there have been eight such incidents, according to the chief.
Bias-awareness training, another subject Sgt. Cseremsak spoke about, “starts at the police academy.”
Instruction on bias awareness, he said, is “an extensive topic that consists of many other topics that takes many days at the academy to go over from different perspectives.”
“After we hire a new police officer from right out of the academy or somebody who had police training previously, we still make them go through a field training program,” the sergeant said. “It’s run for approximately four months.”
Each day, every recruit is critiqued on a “whole laundry list of things,” including relationships with the citizens of a minority race or ethnicity.
“Every day, the officers have to receive an acceptable rating,” he said. “If they receive anything less than an acceptable level of performance, it needs to be documented and they need to receive remedial training.”
According to Sgt. Cseremsak, the Hopewell Township Police Department underwent fair and impartial police training as recently as August.
“Once an officer is on the road, we do have periodic training on race issues, bias issues,” he said. “We focus mainly on implicit bias that just about everybody has — the subconscious level, the way you think, which is based on our own life experiences, the way we grow up and as we live, basically to be aware of how it may affect the decisions we make.”