April 22, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

What happened to Tyre Nichols in Memphis is unconscionable

4 min read
Police Chief Chris Skinner reflects on video of the Memphis Police Department traffic stop on Jan. 7, 2023, three days before the death of Tyre Nichols.

by Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner

What happened to Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, is unconscionable. It’s tragic for the victim, their family, and communities of color across our nation. Our entire nation awaited the release of the video and nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. I thought I was prepared to watch the video and found myself having a flood of difficult emotions and physically sick watching these officers beat Mr. Nichols.

I was immediately transported back in time to early in my career, 1991, when I watched the beating of Rodney King. When something like this happens, even if it’s in another state, it’s normal to ask what prevents this from happening in Eugene. The horrific event involving Mr. Nichols isn’t related to a lack of training. This is an issue that starts with the hiring process. Hiring the right officers with the heart for service creates a culture that won’t tolerate this type of policing behavior.  

I’m not going to declare any workforce in any industry to be perfect, but I want to be clear with everyone in our city: We have many things put in place over the last two decades, and more recently in the wake of the George Floyd murder, to ensure professionalism and humane treatment of people we encounter. 

We have new policies that mandate a duty to intervene by officers who are witnessing illegal behavior or excessive force by other officers. That is an important provision and it is an Oregon law that our officers have been made very familiar with through our training. We will go back over this with our staff in the wake of Tyre’s death. 

We have a robust and experienced oversight system with an independent police auditor, Civilian Review Board, and professional staff leading internal affairs. This helps hold our department accountable and address behavioral issues early and often. 

Our Force Response Reporting system recently added four new categories to use of force. These include when a taser, extended-range impact weapon such as 40 mm (less than lethal), or firearm is pointed at a person,  or when a canine is used to gain compliance. This data can subsequently be tracked along with demographics, including by race. Any use of force gets reviewed by a supervisor, along with bodycam, to make sure we don’t miss anything and we have an early warning on issues. 

The City of Eugene has a citizen-led police commission that reviews policies and makes recommendations to the chief. 

We continue to improve our practices in disciplines such as person and traffic stops through the Statistical Transparency of Policing reporting. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission report on our STOPs data confirms that our goals are being met and our community is experiencing professional service without discrimination toward any individual or group. We also look to our Crisis Negotiation Team, Crisis Intervention Training, de-escalation tactics, and bias training and reporting. We continue to collaborate through other resources such as CAHOOTS for behavioral health calls. 

The City of Eugene and its police department have demonstrated deep commitment to ongoing reform. Trust is critical to policing. We work to reflect our community and it is important we all have eyes on these issues and work to move forward together.

For more information, see the 2021 Office of Professional Standards Annual Report information regarding our Force Response (Use of Force and Show of Force) Reporting.

by Mayor Lucy Vinis

I am in disbelief and saddened by the heinous action that led to the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. Though I had braced myself for the release of the video, nothing could have prepared me for the shock and outrage of what I saw.  The horror of watching this young man being brutally beaten while calling for his mother should sear into our hearts and minds our responsibility to change the violent trajectory in our society; and commit ourselves to creating a public safety system that truly protects and supports our community.

My heart and thoughts go out to the parents, family, and friends of Mr. Nichols. It is hard under normal circumstances to lose a child or family member. It unbearable to lose a loved one to this targeted and senseless act.

Public trust is the foundation of public safety. I have trust in Chief Skinner and the Eugene Police Department in their commitment to preventing tragedies like this one happening in our own community. I encourage you to read Chief Skinner’s statement on how the City of Eugene and the Eugene Police Department have worked with local community members to put measures in place over the last several years so that incidents like what happened in Memphis do not happen here.

Watching the video is difficult, and for many, it can bring up overwhelming feelings and emotion. If you find yourself in need of support, there are resources available:

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