Constitution is guiding principle for FPD

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Franklin Police Chief Phil Hardison speaks to members of the Berkley Neighborhood Watch group about police in the news around the nation. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Franklin Police Chief Phil Hardison speaks to members of the Berkley Neighborhood Watch group about police in the news around the nation. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Following the death of a black man in police custody, the riots and looting in Baltimore grew so violent that the National Guard was called in. This comes behind police-related incidents in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Ferguson, Missouri, and as close as Virginia Beach. With that on the nation’s conscious, the Berkley Neighborhood Watch group invited Franklin Police Chief Phil Hardison to talk about this trend and police training.

“I don’t know the answer for other places, but I can tell you that it is a question I have asked,” Hardison said about training. “We are the only legally armed representatives in this community. That authority comes from you. You expect to be able to trust us and our decision making.”

Members of the Franklin Police Department go through extensive training for use of firearms and other equipment, and he added that guns, batons and Tasers are defensive options. The first option for his officers is a peaceful resolution, and Hardison wants the police to always be kind and respectful.

“When people come to us, or encounter us, they are often in crisis mode,” he said. “I can’t promise that everything is going to turn out OK all the time, but I want you to know that we are going to take good care of you.”

The chief takes the constitutional rights of citizens seriously, and he also expects the same of his officers.

“This document,” he said, pointing at a booklet of the Constitution of the U.S., “if you ask me, is a job description for every police officer in the country.”

Reading over the 14th Amendment, about not denying a citizen life, liberty or property without due cause, Hardison added, “We are seeing potential abuse of this amendment all too frequently with police around the country. It’s happening so fast that you can’t process what’s happened in one place before another one is occurring elsewhere.”

To him, it’s not all about training, though that’s very important. It’s about the people you arm to protect others. Hardison said he often gets criticism for the vacancies in his department, and also for not having a perfect ratio between male and female and black and white officers.

“There is a lot of pressure on police departments around the country,” he said. “But if you are hiring just to put someone in a uniform and get them on the streets fast, that’s a poor hiring practice.”

Hardison said he tries to hire more female officers, more black officers, and to fill vacancies, but he will not put someone on the streets of Franklin who does not meet his standards.

“We need to depend on someone who has the ability to tell the truth,” Hardison said. “We can only train and educate a person who is aligned with the values of our organization: honor, courage, commitment, integrity.”

If someone does not possess these values, he or she should not be an agent of the law.

“I can’t afford to have a rogue element walking around with the full authority of the government to do what they want and what they think they can get away with,” Hardison said. “I will not let that happen in Franklin — we are looking for the best in the country — fine people, from the finest families.”

Officers are still human, though, and mistakes can happen.

“We still make mistakes,” Hardison said. “We’re not perfect and we work in a dynamic, explosive and sometimes violent profession. And when we do make mistakes, we need to own up to it.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to tell the truth when everything goes right. But it should be just as easy to be truthful when things go wrong.”

Johnetta Nichols of the neighborhood watch group wanted an example. If weapons are truly defensive, how would they get her out of her car if she refused to comply?

First, Hardison said, he would assess the situation. Does he have the legal authority to remove her from the car? If the answer is yes, he said he would first be patient.

“If I am a patrol officer who pulled you over, and if you are behaving in a reasonable manner besides refusing to comply with this command, I would continue to communicate with you to get you to step out of the car,” Hardison said. “Maybe you don’t feel safe? I don’t know your reasons. But as long as there is no threat, then I’m in no hurry. I’ve got all day as a patrol officer, and it’s probably you who are inconvenienced by the time.”

If the situation changed, and Nichols was a threat — he couldn’t see her hands, or she seemed to be fidgeting with something, Hardison said he’d call his supervisor.

“I’m not going to lose my job because of this, so I’m going to attach his name to it. I can afford to lose his job, not mine,” he said with a laugh. “I want direction.”

If Nichols never complied, and there was a legal reason to remove her, Hardison said officers would eventually pull her out of the car.

“I’m not going to shoot you with a Taser or spray mace in your face,” he said. “A Taser is only used if someone is coming at you to do you harm. If someone’s back is turned and they are running away, it is not to be used to capture someone.”

In his years with the Franklin Parks and Recreation Department, Frank Davis, who is president of the watch group, said he’s seen crowds lose control at sporting events.

“I know there are characters in there sometimes,” he said. “People on alcohol or drugs do get out of hand. But each time, Franklin officers have handled it well and we’re always glad to see them.”

Davis said everyone in Franklin has one thing in common — they want to feel safe in their home and community. It’s sometimes tough to keep the peace, but Davis said he was appreciative.

“We want you to know that we are very thankful,” he said. “Y’all’s job is not easy.”