Police chief talks about use of force

John Richmeier
Leavenworth Police Chief Pat Kitchens, right, speaks Monday during a forum focusing on the use of force by police officers. The event was attended by other members of the Leavenworth Police Department.

Leavenworth’s police chief says he is open to discussion about changes to the Police Department. But he said changes must come in a thoughtful and methodical manner.

“We can change things,” Chief Pat Kitchens said. “We can try to make it better.”

His comments came Monday during a forum that focused on the Leavenworth Police Department’s use of force.

He said the use of force will never be eliminated from law enforcement. He said there will always be people who do not cooperate when being placed under arrest.

Kitchens said the objective is to mitigate the use of force as much as possible.

The chief spent time during the forum reviewing the law and court decisions that guide use of force by law enforcement officers. He also reviewed the Leavenworth Police Department’s policy on use of force.

He also answered questions from the audience.

“Reasonable” was a term that was repeated often during Kitchens’ presentation. He said an officer’s use of force must be considered reasonable.

He said the use of deadly force is limited to situations in which officers are trying to protect themselves or others from the threat of death or serious bodily harm.

Kitchens said choke holds are not authorized by the Leavenworth Police Department.

However, Kitchens said an officer can apply a choke hold when defending himself or herself in a life or death situation.

“The question becomes is it really a life or death situation,” he said.

Kitchens said Leavenworth police officers are required to fill out separate reports every time they use force.

In 2019, Leavenworth police officers used force only 7% of the time when making arrests.

“That’s pretty low,” Kitchens said. “That’s not a big number.”

Kitchens said empty hand control, which he described as a little bit of tussling, was the most common type of force used.

One topic Kitchens discussed during his presentation is qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.

A website for Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines qualified immunity as a protection for “a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional right.”

“I’m not budging on qualified immunity,” Kitchens said. “I’m opposed to changing that.”

He said qualified immunity provides a protection against a standard of perfection.

“We are never going to be perfect,” he said.

Kitchens plans to hold a similar forum at 9 a.m. Aug. 8 at McGilley Field House at the University of Saint Mary, 4100 S. Fourth St.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

Leavenworth Police Chief Pat Kitchens, left, speaks Monday during a forum focusing on the use of force by police officers.