St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said he was sickened after viewing the video of the Minneapolis incident that saw George Floyd killed while in police custody, as well as the event’s aftermath that has seen “rioting, looting and violence around the country.”
In an address written on his personal Facebook page, Champagne condemned the treatment of Floyd, while also expressing his concerns that the situation has only further escalated tensions between the nation’s law enforcement officers and its citizens.
“I was sickened because I could not bear to watch what was being done to George Floyd,” Champagne said in a written address on his personal Facebook page. “I was also sickened because I knew that a large number of citizens would again paint all law enforcement officers with a broad brush of negativity and brutality, thus further endangering all of our very lives.”
Champagne cited shootings of and attacks upon officers around the country in the past week, some of which resulted in death.
“Just as I feared … (they) were just doing their duty,” Champagne said.
On May 25, 46-year-old George Floyd was arrested by Minneapolis officers after a deli worker accused Floyd of purchasing cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Derek Chauvin, one of four officers who responded to the worker’s call, including Derek Chauvin, who was captured on video holding Floyd down while Chauvin’s knee was pressed onto the back of Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s voice could be heard on the video pleading that he could not breathe. He was reportedly pinned down for nearly nine minutes, lost consciousness, and ultimately his life. Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
After Floyd’s death became national news, an ongoing series of protests and riots ensued, beginning in Minneapolis and spreading throughout the country. At least 12 cities instituted curfews as result and as of June 2, reportedly nearly 5,600 have been arrested.
The Minneapolis incident was the latest source of national outcry against police brutality against African-Americans in recent years. Each has led to a fraying of the trust between many of the country’s citizens and those who work in law enforcement, and Champagne said that creates elevated danger for those wearing the badge.
“I think I can speak for all the members of this agency when I say, again, through no fault of our own, we all find ourselves entering another period in this country in which emotion, anger and even rage is running rampant,” Champagne said. “This is a time when the leadership skills we have acquired mean everything and can even mean the difference between life, serious injury and death.”
Champagne said he communicated with his office’s deputies Monday, stating “while we cannot control events around the country, we can control how we react and perform our duties here in St. Charles Parish.”
“All of us must focus on carrying out our duties in a manner which provides our citizens with the utmost confidence in our ability to do so with empathy, compassion, professionalism and dedication to protecting the rights of everyone,” Champagne said. “That is what we were trained to do and that is what we shall do.”
That last note – training – is something Champagne said has long been a central priority during his time as the parish’s sheriff, a tenure that spans approximately 25 years since he was first elected in 1995. Extensive training and a detailed process for screening and hiring officers are collectively the way, Champagne said, to best ensure what happened in Minnesota does not happen in St. Charles Parish. A common criticism of the Minneapolis Police Department has been that Chauvin was the apparent subject of 18 prior internal affairs complaints against him.
Champagne said his office’s process includes background, criminal record and previous employment investigations, panel interviews, a polygraph examination and a psychological evaluation with a specialist in the field.
“All of this is to determine an applicant’s suitability for a career in law enforcement,” Champagne said. It’s a protocol stringent enough that over the past year, just 14 enforcement applicants from a field of 275, five percent, were hired, he noted. Those who make the cut but go on to fail to fulfill expectations will be dismissed, Champagne added.
“Every effort is made to select only candidates who are eminently suitable for what is a stressful job, but an extremely important job,” Champagne said.
St. Charles Parish officers are required to fulfill 620 hours of training; the statewide minimum is 496. Parish deputies are also required to receive 40 annual in-service training hours, double the state requirement of 20. He noted annual topics of training include updates on ethics, use of force and de-escalation techniques.
Further, seven years ago, Champagne instituted completion of the Credible Leadership Development Program, which includes 210 total hours of combined online and live training, as a pre-requisite for promotion.
“I believe that it has paid off for everyone in St. Charles Parish. Internal Affairs Complains are down as well as our overall crime rate, which is the lowest it has been in at least 30 years,” Champagne said.
He added that the people of the parish community have always expressed great support and confidence in the Sheriff’s Office, and says it’s his goal that this continues.