Fredericksburg Police make changes to use-of-force policies, embrace ‘8 Can’t Wait’ campaign

Fredericksburg, Virginia, police have made changes to their use of force policies to bring them in compliance with the national reform campaign “8 Can’t Wait.”

On Saturday, at the first in a planned series of public outreach events, Police Chief Brian Layton said a demonstrator made him aware of the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign, which was launched in June.

“It’s eight things that police departments across the country can do right now to reduce the use of force and reduce officer-involved injuries. That caught my attention right away,” Layton said.

It turned out his department already had six of the eight suggested policies in place. Now, it has all eight.

The policies include banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring officers to give a verbal warning before shooting and requiring them to intervene when they see other officers using excessive force.

The entire agency has been trained on the updated policies.

The department is also expanding its citizen advisory panel from six members to nine. Anyone interested can apply online, and applications must be received by close of business on Aug. 14.

“We’re also looking to be more inclusive of our community, not only in the four wards being represented, but we also want at least one youth member on the group. What I define a youth member is from 18 to 30 years old,” Layton said.

Layton also talked about the benefits of body cameras, which his officers have been using since 2014.

“We think it is the greatest piece of equipment that we’ve ever purchased. Now, these things are expensive,” Layton said. “When a police action is occurring, that camera is required to be on, and when we get a complaint, we go straight to the video.”

The Fredericksburg Police Department has been accused of using tear gas on protesters who gathered on Cowan Boulevard on May 31, days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Layton has apologized for the police response to the early protest, The Free Lance-Star reported.

Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw also apologized to the protesters, telling The Free Lance-Star, “I know that the use of tear gas shocked and frightened them. I apologize to those who went through this fearful experience.”

In a news release, Layton said the department is “committed to completing an internal review of the use of force incidents concerning police response to incidents of civil unrest.”

The Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said it deployed tear gas and pepper balls the following day on June 1, when a large group of protesters crossed the Falmouth Bridge into Stafford County, NBC 12 reported. A curfew had been in effect from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m., which prohibited residents of the City of Fredericksburg to leave their homes except for medical emergencies or going to their jobs, Fredericksburg Patch reported.

The sheriff’s office said it happened after protesters started to throw rocks and bottles at deputies.

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