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WPD bans choke holds, updates force policies

City officials approved a number of policy changes for the Winchester Police Department in light of a number of national incidents in the past year.

The proposed changes, which were approved by the city commission on first reading Tuesday, add new language in its use of force policy to require officers to intervene if other officers may violate law or department policy and bans choke holds. It also adds another layer of approval before a no-knock warrant will be issued.

“These are things I believe we need to do as a modern accredited police department,” Winchester Police Chief Kevin Palmer said.

The department never had a policy about banning choke holds, but Palmer said officers were trained in using them.

“I’ve already prohibited it in the Police Department and the officers have been notified it is pending city approval,” Palmer said.

The new policy defines a choke hold as “applying direct pressure to the throat, windpipe or airway of another with the intent to reduce or prevent the intake of air.” It does not include any contact “not intended, anticipated or expected” to affect a person’s airflow.

The department’s existing policy also requires officers to respond and intervene in situations involving other officers’ use of force.

In May, George Floyd died in Minneapolis after police put a knee on his neck, which cut off his airflow, and other officers on the scene did not attempt to stop it.

“It’s a huge benefit to have (the new policy) and to train that way,” Palmer said. “Cooler heads prevail.”

Palmer said he also made a change to the department’s standard operating procedures requiring the chief to sign off on no-knock warrants before one would be issued. The current SOP allows for no-knock warrants to be issued if the signing judge is aware, he said.

Palmer said he’s never conducted a no-knock warrant in his 25-year police career.

“This adds another check and balance to our search warrant policies,” he said.

In March 2020, Louisville resident Breonna Taylor was killed by police executing a no-knock warrant at her apartment. Taylor was not the subject of the warrant.

The second policy amendment relates to police pursuits. Now, pursuits would only be authorized if a person in the vehicle is fleeing from a “serious felony” including a death, felony assault, kidnapping or felony robbery among others.

Both amendments require a second reading before they become official.

In other action, the commission:

• voted to end the firefighter recruit contract program at Winchester Fire-EMS.

• authorized a public sculpture project in the North Main Street parking lot. The project will be privately funded.

• approved the first reading of an ordinance to authorize up to $135 million in loans to Danimer Scientific. The attorney advising the process said the company had obtained several loans since the original documents were approved, and the documents were resubmitted to reflect the new liens.

• designated JoEllen Reed as mayor pro tem.

• appointed Reed and Kitty Strode to the public works committee.

• appointed Shannon Cox and Reed to the revenue sharing committee.

• appointed Ramsey Flynn and Reed to the fire-EMS committee.

• appointed Cox to the Winchester-Clark County Parks and Recreation board.

• appointed Cox and Flynn to the insurance committee.

• appointed Flynn to the Generations Center board of directors.

• appointed Flynn to the Winchester Municipal Utilities Commission board.

• hired Noah Hall as firefighter I/EMT.

• reclassified Austin Lancaster and Chris Harms from firefighter II/EMT to firefighter III/EMT.

• removed Firuz Etamad, Lydia Frazier, Chris Cantor, Oliver Kline and Carson Reynolds from the part-time employee list for patient transfer specialists.

• accepted the resignation of dispatcher Adam Wilson.

• accepted the resignation of patient transfer specialist/EMT Danielle Corliss.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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