City leaders respond to HPCAC report

Huntsville

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Huntsville City Council held a work session to go over the recent report that laid out recommendations for the Huntsville Police Department following protests last June.

Huntsville City Administrator John Hamilton laid out multiple responses to comments and suggestions raised in the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council’s report.

“We should never be in a place where we think we are doing good enough. We always think we have to get better,” said Hamilton.

The report itself stressed training on everything from HPD policies to crowd control tactics.

“For more training, particularly the joint training, that’s something Chief and the Sheriff are both already addressing. In fact there’s training going on right now this week,” said Hamilton.

The city administrator also made it clear that more training will cost money to conduct while also moving people around when officers are taken off the streets.

“Those 8-hours that he is in training, there has to be another officer out there making sure your neighborhoods are properly patrolled and properly secured, “said Hamilton.

Last week HPD put out a statement that said Chief Mark McMurray would address the council during the work session. Midway through, the Chief said he would not and that “his boss” would be. McMurray said he would be available to talk after the work session.

McMurray did speak with News 19 after the meeting. He said he looks forward to working to address some of the concerns raised in the HPCAC report. McMurray also mentioned HPD needs to go over the 300 hours of body camera video from the protest. The advisory council used the video to generate evidence against HPD. Citing the department violated their own policies on camera several times.

“We did not see those in our initial reviews. We usually wait for some kind of input so we know where to go to review. You’ve got to remember each one of these officers had superiors with them. They were accountable and there might of been some things that were missed,” said Chief McMurray.

John Hamilton did defend the tactics used by law enforcement during the protests. Hamilton says drone video showed each time a tactic was deployed, the crowd clearly thinned.

“Each time they took a little step up in the process, part of the crowd bled away,” said Hamilton.

One major concern from the HPCAC report centered on the need for better communication between HPD and several other agencies involved with clearing the protests. Hamilton says the agencies are working to make improvements but did mention not all involved agencies shared what they had at their disposal before the protests.

“There where resources that some agencies brought that were not identified in that pre brief,” said Hamilton.

One policy change coming to HPD, according to Hamilton, is a handoff of any officer related use of force complaint and subsequent investigation will soon be handled by the state.

There was no formal changes to HPD policy at the work session. That can only be done during actual council hours. To watch the full work session, click here.

Mayor Tommy Battle says Huntsville City Council hears the call for police reform and they promise to work to improve the Huntsville Police Department. Battle says now it is time to take lessons learned and improve together as a community.

The overwhelming response of Huntsville City Council members Wednesday night highlighted some good things about the Huntsville Police Department, but all agreed there is room to grow.

Repeat topics council members say need improvement within the department, the need for increased transparency and communication.

“If we believe that the officer did absolutely right…the person came to complain… we are in every way believing the officer did right… why not publish it to the public and say here’s our example,” argues Devyn Keith.

The release of body camera video was brought up repeatedly by council members as a way to improve policing and accountability.

“The public needs to see that footage, that footage is paid for by citizens and tax dollars,” says Meredith.

Council members said they would like to see Memorandums of Understanding that lay out specifics for how multiple law enforcement agencies will interact with HPD. The recommendation for an MOU comes from the June 3rd protest where another law enforcement agency assisting HPD fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

“Frankly, I would like those MOUs to address the fact that within the city limits of Huntsville, HPD is in control,” says John Meredith.

Councilman Devyn Keith says the police reform needed goes beyond the protests of 2020 and recognizes those changes wont happen overnight.

Mayor Battle says now there are marching orders in place and work to be done. Battle says the city is not finished yet when it comes to the work of police reform.

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