SWVA law enforcement agencies weigh in on department policies and procedures


ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – Following nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, communities across the country are questioning what their area law enforcement departments can and can’t do.

Questions surrounding the use of force and required training for each officer are the most common discussions circulating currently on social media. News Channel 11 has been looking into the policies and procedures in departments both in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

SEE ALSO: Body cameras and badges: Local law enforcement officials describe use of force policies, bias training

While there are a number of similarities in the procedures carried out by these departments across state lines, the differences are still notable as far as training goes training. In Southwest Virginia, the SWVA Criminal Justice Training Academy oversees 52 agencies across 11 counties. The agencies that fall under their umbrella are required to attend and complete a 20-week long course, 800 hours in total.

The course consists of a number of lessons including training regarding laws, use of force, dealing with domestic violence situations, driver training in patrol units, firearm training, cultural diversity, and more.

The academy holds two basic training sessions a year ranging from 25 to 40 officers per class. On top of completing this initial training, officers must also conduct additional training at their respective departments as well as revisit lessons learned at the academy a minimum of twice a year.

“Everyone that’s law enforcement certified must complete 40 hours in-service every two years to maintain their certification,” said Captain Tim Widener with the Washington County, Va. Sheriff’s Department.

As far as the use of force, departments like the Abingdon Police Department say that it is all monitored through the use of their body cameras. While the cameras are a great tool for evidence purposes, acting chief, John Holbrook said they also come in handy in terms of policing their own.

“We use it for supervision and even use of force reviews. If our officer uses force, then we go back and we watch the camera,” said Holbrook.

The police department has been using body cameras since 2011 and has gone through a few changes as far as the software used, but the department has been using its current system for the past few years. All patrol officers are required to wear the cameras while on duty and record during every call.

Holbrook told News Channel 11 they regularly review the video and it’s only possible to review on the server, not remotely. He assures any tampering of equipment would be a direct violation of policy and would be subject to an internal review.

While he says they stick to a strict code at the Abingdon Police Department, Holbrook tells us he assures the public they hire only the best men and women to serve.

“We vet all of our newcomers coming in through background checks and make sure they act as we would like them to act in representing our agency and community,” said Holbrook.

In order to meet the education requirements to serve as an officer of the law in Virginia, you must be at least 21 years and have a high school diploma or GED equivalent.

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