WINDHAM — Windham Police will soon be required to give suspects a warning before use of deadly force.

The department’s updated policy on deadly force, which will go into effect Nov. 1, also prohibits the use of “techniques that compromise air or blood flow” such as choke holds, as well as discharging a weapon at a moving motor vehicle, except where “deadly force is justified” in both cases, according to Capt. Jim Boudreau.

Boudreau announced the change at a virtual community forum Tuesday co-hosted by Celine Baker, an organizer of the June 25 Black Lives Matter demonstration in town. The protest drew more than 60 people to protest the May death of George Floyd, a Black man, who died when a Minneapolis officer held his knee to neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

The Windham department has received two complaints about use of force since 2015, according to Capt. Bill Andrew. Both complainants were white males and an internal investigation found no wrongdoing by the officers accused. Andrew did not elaborate further.

In response to a question from Cynthia Barris Baker about demands to “defund the police” nationwide, Chief Kevin Schofield that he doesn’t believe the Windham department, with a budget of  $3,249,563, should be eliminated, but that he does understand the desire to shift some responsibilities to people better equipped to handle mental health crises and substance use issues.

His department responded to 183 mental health-related calls in 2019, he said. Two of these calls resulted in use of force. Schofield said that the Maine Criminal Justice Academy only requires eight hours of mental health first aid training and 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

Schofield said police cadets receive anti-bias training at the academy. This type of training, meant to reduce racial profiling, has been at the forefront of many conversations about police brutality, and is meant to reduce racial profiling by law enforcement.

In terms of diversity on his own force, all 29 sworn officers and the two administrative assistants are white. The only non-white employee of the Department is their animal control officer, whom Schofield said is a Hispanic woman.

Baker said Wednesday said Windham’s use of force policy update and the police department’s transparency are a “step in the right direction.”

“I believe that other police departments should follow their lead in reevaluating current standards and making changes as needed. I am thankful to live in a community where the local authorities truly care about making change and are taking steps to do so,” she said.

Racism ‘very much in Windham’

Change is needed even in communities like Windham, Baker said.

“We felt like even though some people think that Windham or the Lake Region community doesn’t experience racism because we’re not in Portland, we’re not a small metropolitan city, it’s still very much in Windham and in all these surrounding communities. We felt like something had to be done,” Baker said at the protest last week.

Despite intimidating comments on co-organizer Zach DeFosse’s post to a Windham community Facebook group, there were no signs of counter-protesters and the march remained peaceful.

The protesters, wearing masks and dressed in black, marched from the high school about half mile down the road to the police station, saying “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “no justice, no peace,” among chants. They were escorted by police, who had blocked off portions of Gray Road.

At the police station, several people spoke, including Abdi Nor Iftin, whose memoir, “Call Me American,” was published in 2018. His memoir describes his journey from living in Somalia in the midst of the civil war to his time in a refugee camp in Kenya and to, finally, arriving in the United States and living with a family in Yarmouth.

On Aug. 9, 2014, “the same day that I landed in the country that I had dreamed (of) since I was 7,” a white police officer murdered a young Black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“My dreams were betrayed,” Iftin said at the protest.

Ahmed Beshir, 22, attended the protest with his sister, Mariam, 18. The Sudanese-born Beshirs arrived in the States by way of Saudi Arabia in 2009. A few years after living in Philadelphia, they moved to Maine, where Beshir said he suddenly became the only Black kid in his community.

For him, he said, the protest is “not about the people who are here today. It’s about the people who are not here today.”

Schofield said the day after the protest that it was “a good example of communicating the message and a good community event.”

A recording of the community forum can be found on the Town of Windham’s Facebook page.

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