Concerned about the erosion of trust in police officers following the May 25 confrontation between a white Minneapolis police officer and an African American man that resulted in the man’s death, Princeton Police Chief Nicholas Sutter has sought to allay concerns about the Princeton Police Department’s approach to the use of force and racial and ethnic bias.
As three Minneapolis police officers watched, one police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes after he had been subdued and handcuffed, according to a video that has been circulating of the incident. Floyd, who was lying prone on the ground, was suspected of passing a fake $20 bill in a store.
Since the May 25 incident, Sutter said he has been asked about the Princeton Police Department and its approach to the use of force and racial and ethic bias. While the questions are justified and understandable, the Princeton Police Department has been at the forefront of those issues for many years, he said.
The Princeton Police Department emphasizes training, which includes learning how to de-escalate a potentially confrontational situation, he said. A monthly use-of-force report is compiled and presented to the Princeton Council. It is also posted on the department’s web site for public viewing.
“We also review officer-citizen interactions regularly with regard to race and ethnicity, and we place these statistics on our website,” Sutter said.
The Princeton Police Department’s policies also are posted on the website, he said. The Princeton Police Department understands the importance of policy and policy compliance, he added.
The Princeton Police Department is in the evaluation stage of a body-worn camera program, and it is expected that every police officer will have one by the end of the summer, Sutter said. It will add another layer of transparency to the officers’ actions.
Sutter said the video of the incident between the police officers and Floyd “violates every fundamental value we as police officers hold dear to our hearts. Our officers are strongly aware of how this event will erode the trust of our citizens in police officers throughout the country.”
The police chief said that it is “particularly hurtful” to him because the Princeton police officers have worked hard to build trust between themselves and the community. The officers “personally invest” in those efforts and cherish them like personal friendships, he said.
“It hurts to know how members of our community may now view us. However, we acknowledge it and we will do our part to re-establish the trust and legitimacy we have worked so hard to earn,” Sutter said.
“Tragic” police/citizen interactions, such as the one between the police officers and Floyd, could be the result of failure in recruitment, organizational culture, training policy or oversight, Sutter said.
“In our department, we have worked incredibly hard at recruiting the highest caliber officers that possess a strong moral fabric. We have built a diverse department that reflects the community we serve,” Sutter said.
The Princeton Police Department’s culture is one that demands integrity and does not tolerate misconduct, because “the misconduct of one police officer tarnishes the entire profession. We will not stand for it among our ranks,” Sutter said.
Sutter said that while he feels strongly about the integrity, commitment to service and the professionalism of Princeton police officers, he “absolutely realizes these are just words.” The officers will continue to be judged by their actions, as they should be, he said.
“We will work each day to prove ourselves as individuals and as an organization. We will never take the authority or trust that has been given to use for granted,” Sutter said.