The death of unarmed black man George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis has resulted in mass protests, riots and continued calls for social justice across the country.
The now former police officer who was captured on video kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Late Thursday, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow issued a signed letter to the city of Santa Barbara, calling the incident “preventable” and encouraging thorough dialogue.
“Certain events in policing, whether involving police action or inaction, evoke such a depth of emotion that I feel a moral imperative to address them,” Chief Luhnow wrote. “I believe this to be the responsibility of all police leaders, whether the message is to defend unpopular actions of police officers, or, as in the case of George Floyd, bring attention to harmful and hurtful actions by officers whose poor decisions tarnish the profession.
“I am deeply disturbed by Mr. Floyd’s death. It was preventable and should not have happened.”
Chief Luhnow explained that society should not shy away “from having courageous conversations and dialogue” to address the incident and prevent future incidents.
“It is through dialogue that we hear other people’s stories and perspectives and learn to empathize with each other,” she wrote. “Historically, law enforcement has contributed to the marginalization of many disadvantaged groups, including African Americans. It is the responsibility of current law enforcement leaders to take measures to prevent those actions from occurring.
“The Santa Barbara Police Department partners with community groups and leaders to ensure that we continue to be a learning organization. It is our culture. We value and depend upon our community’s engagement with our department. These partnerships have allowed us to have meaningful dialogues with groups who have experienced difficult relationships with law enforcement in the past. They have also enhanced our ability to provide training for our officers on important topics such as principled policing and implicit bias, and to engage local community members to participate in that training,” Chief Luhnow wrote.
“Police officers have a duty to uphold the law. I expect our officers, myself included, to apply the law in a way that prioritizes and respects the sanctity of life,” she wrote, which includes intervening when officers act outside of the law or policy. “It is our policy and our moral obligation.”
In closing, Chief Luhnow said she was proud of the local police force, including the high moral standards, respect and empathy they demonstrate.
“We, as sworn officers, are granted the authority to protect our community,” Chief Luhnow wrote. “We understand that we must do so with a blend of humanity, empathy, and fairness to maintain our public’s trust.”