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Former Ferguson police chief reflects on police reform following Tyre Nichols killing

ABC News

(APEX, N.C.) — Following the death of Tyre Nichols after his encounter with Memphis police officers, law enforcement officials across the country have been reflecting on how officers’ tactics and policies can be improved.


Apex, North Carolina, Police Chief Jason Armstrong, who took over as police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, following the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, spoke with ABC News Live Monday to share his thoughts on police reform.

ABC NEWS LIVE: We’ve heard a lot about the need for reform in training and police departments. From what you saw on the video, would additional training have prevented the brutal attack on Tyre Nichols?

CHIEF JASON ARMSTRONG: I’m not certain because the officers in that video, that were involved in that incident, clearly had been through departmental training beforehand. It’s mandatory when you get into the profession.

One thing I noticed, those individuals seemed to be intent on violence that evening, which is unfortunate.

ABC NEWS LIVE: We just heard in Stephanie Ramos’ report that a sixth officer who tased Nichols has not been charged or even fired. As you see there, he’s a white male. Some people are saying that that’s a form of racism. Do you feel that that creates the appearance of bias?

ARMSTRONG: No, no. There are two separate incidents from watching the video. This officer was involved in the first part of the incident where they got Mr. Nichols out of the vehicle and they were trying to take him into custody. And so there was a struggle there. This officer deployed his taser. [It] didn’t appear to have the taser was effective and Mr. Nichols was able to run away from the incident. And so as far as the assault on Mr. Nichols that we saw…this officer was not a part of that assault. And so an attempt to tase them does not equal the violent assault or kicking somebody in the head and punching somebody when they’re defenseless in the face with all your might and all your power. And so I see these as two separate components of that incident and not a race issue as far as Black officers being charged and a white officer not being charged. I didn’t see that white officer on that video kicking and punching Mr. Nichols in the head.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Ben Crump, the Nichols family attorney, has said that regardless of race, all police in this country have an implicit culture of bias against people of color. Do you agree with that?

ARMSTRONG: No, I don’t agree with it, no. I understand where he’s coming from and how people feel when we see these videos come out and the incidents that we see broadcast all over social media. But I work with these men and women every day, and I see the things that happen every day. And we don’t see this type of activity in these actions happening every day in our communities. And so, I understand the image that he’s trying to paint, but I disagree with that.

Now, one of the things that I will say and we can’t escape it is just as inherent in our culture and this society that we know that there are racial biases that exist. But that’s not just for police officers. That’s not just specific to the policing profession. You look at real estate, housing, and our health care system, all of those systems point to inequities.

But we have to be careful with painting everybody with that broad brush. We all have issues and biases that we deal with. But that doesn’t mean that individuals are out there trying to harm people.

ABC NEWS LIVE: You were in Ferguson when the U.S. Justice Department scrutinized that department’s conduct. What does it take to do a deep dive into an organization’s culture and root out the kind of violent behavior that we saw in Memphis?

ARMSTRONG: Well, the first step in that is looking at the policies and practices that you have in place. But then the second part is looking at how you apply those policies and practices. At the end of the day, a policy is just words on a piece of paper or words on a screen that an individual is reading. Where the true test comes into play is how are we holding individuals accountable to the words that we have and our policies and actions that we say we’re going to do.

And that’s where we see the reforms coming in to make sure that we build in that level of accountability so we can do a better job of holding ourselves accountable and catching problematic individuals and problematic behavior before we see something like this happen, what we saw in Memphis.

ABC NEWS LIVE: And this may be really kind of the same answer, but I know that specifically you’ve been addressing the issue of police bias, where you are now in Apex, North Carolina. What are you doing there specifically? How’s it going?

ARMSTRONG: So it’s going pretty good. And when it comes to addressing bias issues, a lot of that is just really doing a deep dive into the conversation with the individuals that you have to work with. Too often when we talk about bias, people automatically assume that we’re talking about racism, and that’s not necessarily the case.

We all have biases. And so [if] somebody stands up to say that they have zero biases in them, that’s not accurate because we all have some form of bias in us. And so when we talk about addressing bias issues, it’s really working with individuals and talking through examples and life experiences and things that contribute to those biases to help people better understand and recognize how we’re processing information and how our biases work within us so we can do a better job of overcoming our biases and working within them to where we’re not seeing people being negatively impacted by somebody else’s bias.

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