EUGENE, Ore. – Eugene’s police chief is speaking out after the death of a black man in Minneapolis, who died after an officer knelt on his neck.
Chris Skinner issued a statement, condemning the actions of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd.
“It was hard for me to watch and I found myself feeling sad and angry. Sad for the unnecessary loss of life and sad for the Floyd family and their community who are living through this,” Skinner wrote.
He said although this happened across the country, its impact is felt locally, as well.
“Events like these transcend the thousands of miles where they occur and resonate deeply with our communities of color here in Eugene,” he said. “Police legitimacy and trust is so fragile and we fight hard for incremental gains. We know that we have a long way to go and fully realize that events on a national level erode the faith and trust in your police department here at home. We are committed to being better. Better every day with our behavior and service to this community.”
And while Skinner said training was not at issue in causing Floyd’s death – saying officers are not trained to kneel on a person’s neck with their full weight -- but the Eugene department has taken steps to improve their own. The training team locally has gone from a single officer and sergeant to five officers, a sergeant and a lieutenant.
“What happened in Minneapolis was a heart and character issue. When you hire the wrong people who don’t have the capacity for empathy, compassion, and in this case restraint, the outcome should be obvious. Hiring the right people who have a heart for service is where we as a profession should shift our focus,” Skinner wrote.
He said they seek to hire on character first.
After a high use of force, Skinner said they review their policies to be more accountable.
The police department looks carefully at how officers are interacting with communities of color, Skinner said.
“When interacting with our communities of color, we have a record of equity that has been measured and verified,” Skinner said.
He cited a report by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which found equity during stops for the department. He also said they have a partnership with Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement to track and report bias crimes.
The Eugene-Springfield branch of the NAACP also spoke out about the death.
President Ibrahim Coulibaly said he is troubled by the killings of Ahmaud Arbrey and George Floyd.
The organization said they applaud some success locally, but said this latest incident is an example of why policing recommendations need to be updated nationwide.
Coulibaly said along with community partners, they will continue to push Oregon law enforcement to assess officers and training materials with an emphasis on deescalation.
“Together, with integrity, we can move our community forward,” Coulibaly said.