Henderson police working to strengthen community trust

The Review-Journal’s July 10 editorial on the promotion of Henderson police Lt. Brett Seekatz (“The wrong message”) raises some important issues, including the critical need for trust between the community and law enforcement.

What Lt. Seekatz did to Adam Greene in 2010 was wrong and he was disciplined for violating police policy. We are sorry for the injuries that Mr. Greene suffered and for the actions against him that should have never taken place.

While this incident occurred before either of us were in our current positions as city manager and chief of police respectively, we recognize that it continues to generate questions about the use of force by police and the response from both Henderson officials and the city’s police department.

We want to make clear that neither the mayor nor members of the City Council acted to conceal this incident once they became aware of what occurred. They publicly apologized to the victim and acknowledged that he had unfairly suffered at the hands of police.

These elected officials also played no role in promoting officer Seekatz. Under the city’s charter, the mayor and council are strictly forbidden from making any personnel decisions regarding members of the Henderson Police Department, except for chief. We share sole responsibility for this choice.

We believe that Lt. Seekatz used extremely bad judgment during his encounter with Mr. Greene and that he had to be held accountable. But in the nearly six years since that day, he has maintained a clean service record and shown that he’s learned from his mistakes — as has Henderson’s police leadership.

Out of this unfortunate incident came a top-to-bottom review on use of force and new policies and training programs that were put in place to prevent re-occurrences of what happened in 2010. These include training on how to de-escalate encounters with suspects and other techniques to reduce the need for force.

The city of Henderson and its police department take seriously any allegation involving excessive use of force. Claims are promptly investigated, officers and witnesses are interviewed and evidence is analyzed to conclude if policies are being properly followed. Officers who are found to have acted inappropriately are subject to punishment. They can also face criminal prosecution or civil penalties for their actions if they break the law.

In addition, every use of force is now reviewed internally by the department’s training and analysis unit. The actions of officers are scrutinized and feedback is provided by experts who are specially certified in use of force analysis. Henderson’s community Police Action Review Committee provides an additional layer of oversight. The committee allows local graduates of our Citizens Academy to review actions taken by officers as a way to increase transparency and improve the department’s performance.

These changes helped Henderson’s police force to become the first in Nevada to earn a Gold Standard Assessment from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Numbers also tell the story. In 2015, Henderson police made nearly 11,000 arrests, but only 243 (or less than 1 percent) involved the use of force. By comparison, Henderson police reported a total of 441 use of force incidents in 2010. And over a two-year period between 2014 and 2015, Henderson police responded to 355,000 calls for service, but only 85 resulted in complaints from the public.

At the same time, Henderson continues to rank as one of the safest communities of its size in the United States, thanks to the efforts of the men and women who serve on our police force.

We agree with the editorial’s point that, “It’s vital that police forces around the country strive to send out positive messages as officers put their lives on the line each day to fight crime and promote order.” That is why we are proud of the outreach efforts by Henderson police that include working with members of the African-American, Hispanic, Asian and LGBT communities to strengthen relationships and ensure diversity in the recruitment of officers. These efforts have resulted in larger numbers of women and minorities applying to join the Henderson Police Department.

And we are pleased to say that in 2015, 50 percent of the new officers hired were either female or members of a minority community.

Working together, we can build unity, foster greater understanding and overcome barriers that create division and lead to resentment by those who feel they are being unfairly treated or targeted. Henderson police are there to protect and serve not only the residents of our community, but all those who need our assistance — and we are working every day to fulfill that promise and to keep families safe.

Robert Murnane is Henderson city manager. Patrick Moers is chief of the Henderson Police Department.

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