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Has training helped Asheville police curb racial bias, excessive force?

APD racial bias, excessive force training under scrutiny
Asheville Police Chief David Zack apologized to the city on behalf of officers who destroying a medic station set up for protesters gathering downtown around the Vance Monument. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Asheville police officers participated in training meant to curb racial bias and excessive force. But vandalism and clashes with police during recent protests has put that training under scrutiny.

In the wake of leaked video showing an Asheville police officer beating a man accused of jaywalking, the department announced several rounds of new training, including a program created by the New Orleans Police Department.

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Several Asheville officers learned the program and then trained the remaining officers.

Yet, this week, a group of officers in riot gear were caught on video destroying a medic station set up for protesters gathering downtown around the Vance Monument. The video showed officers puncturing water bottles, items Chief David Zack said demonstrators had been throwing at police. A day after issuing an explanation for the officer’s actions, Zack went further and apologized to the city on behalf of the officers involved.

The EPIC program

“I don’t think we can ever have enough training,” said Paul Noel, deputy chief of the New Orleans Police Department.

Noel, has been heavily involved in the ongoing training program the department uses in an attempt to ensure officers step in if they see a fellow officer crossing the line with a civilian or suspect.

The goal of EPIC, which stands for Ethical Policing is Courageous, is to train officers to know they have a professional obligation to step in and even break rank if they see somone cross the line of moral and or legal behavior.

“It’s not only acceptable to intervene on someone with more seniority of a higher rank, but it’s expected and demanded,” Noel said.

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Noel said the program emerged from serious and embarrassing police misconduct in the department.

“There are moments in our history we are not proud of,” he said.

Because of systemic problems, the department engaged individuals, specifically attorneys whom officers may have once considered adversaries, to help develop a solution.

“We brought in members of the community to help us with this program," Noel said. "One was a civil rights attorney, who has sued the New Orleans police department successfully and repeatedly. And also, a civil rights leader going back to the 60s.”

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Noel said the only way the program can work is if officers buy in.

"On my uniform, above my name, I wear a pin. And that pin is a contract so any officer knows they have the right to stop me, or any of us, before we go too far, before we cross a line, and to help us help each other. Even before a situation gets out of control, to step in and tap that person out, get them out of the situation before it even starts to escalate," Noel said.

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