City leaders respond to Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council protest report
Published on April 28, 2021
During a special work session of the Huntsville City Council on Wednesday, April 28, the City’s Administration publicly addressed the findings of a report on the Huntsville Police Department’s response to 2020 protests.
At the work session, Administrator John Hamilton presented the City’s response to the 248-page report, which includes assessments and recommendations for improvement within HPD.
“Tonight’s presentation before City Council was just the start of a long process to strengthen our commitment to providing the best public safety for our citizens,” he said.
Although the City appreciates the efforts of the independent counsel, Hamilton did, however, counter some claims made in the report regarding:
- Transparency: The City made every effort to exercise transparency with the independent counsel, including availability to officers and training records. Hamilton said he was not aware of any attempt to prevent officers from speaking, nor was there ever a threat of retaliation against officers who agreed to speak. Training records were also available, but each training record could be as many as 500 printed pages. Hamilton said the City would have gladly provided training records for a specific officer in a digital format if counsel had made that request.
- Rubber bullets: The City again repeated its position that a lone officer, who is no longer employed by HPD, did deploy five rubber-tipped finned projectiles. These snub-nosed projectiles differ from rubber bullets deployed by other law enforcement agencies because they are not designed to pierce skin or cause serious or fatal injury. HPD officers did not fire traditional rubber bullets at protesters.
- Use of chemical irritants: Irritants were only used against protesters who refused to leave the area. The irritants were primarily used to put distance between aggressive protesters and police officers who were attempting to clear the street. Irritants were also used to clear a path so protesters would have a way to move out without trampling one another.
- Reliance on actionable intelligence: Tactical decisions made during the protests were not based on prior intelligence, but intelligence obtained on the ground as events unfolded.
- Communications: The City believes there was a breakdown in communication between protest organizers, the public, City administration and HPD.
- Training following the protests: Hamilton explained HPD is re-examining its training procedures and taking the HPCAC report into consideration during those processes. He stressed HPD training is conducted in accordance with Homeland Security standards. He added joint training opportunities with other agencies have occurred since last year’s protests. Hamilton said whatever policy changes emerge from this period of self-examination would mirror the department’s previous successes. “This police department has led reforms for the last 20 years,” he said.
Although the report will not result in immediate policy changes within HPD, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said it will help shape the department moving forward.
“While we’re continually looking to improve operations within HPD, we’re proud of our police force and the critical work they do for our citizens,” Mayor Battle said. “We will use this report to make HPD even better and work with our community to ensure Huntsville is a just, equitable place for all.”
The City Council passed a resolution on June 25, 2020, charging the (HPCAC) with conducting an independent review of the protests and HPD’s response. The 10-month process formally began in July and concluded with a presentation of the report to Council on April 22.
The City retained attorneys Elizabeth H. Huntley and Jackson Sharman of Birmingham law firm, Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC, to assist and provide counsel to the HPCAC in its duties. The independent counsel report to HPCAC is available as a PDF at huntsvillepolicereview.com.