Q&A: Normal Police Union President Talks George Floyd, Reforms, And Defunding | WGLT

Q&A: Normal Police Union President Talks George Floyd, Reforms, And Defunding

Jun 17, 2020

Protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have evolved into a national discussion about police reform. Some have called for defunding police departments and reinvesting that money in social programs. Others say the unions that represent police officers are themselves the biggest barrier to change.

WGLT recently spoke to Kendra DeRosa, a Normal Police detective who also is union president of the Police Benevolent and Protective Association (PBPA) Unit 22.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

WGLT: What have the past three weeks been like for you and your members? What’s been on your mind?

DeRosa: The past three weeks have come with a lot of ups and downs. A lot of emotions. All of us were just heartbroken by what we saw up in Minnesota. Obviously, that’s not how we’re trained down here. That’s not something we’d ever condone. And to see that play out on video, knowing George Floyd has family and friends, it’s just heartbreaking. It was disbelief and just sheer disappointment that anything like that could happen by a law enforcement officer.

What do you make of the demonstrations and protests we’ve seen locally?

There’s been a lot of positives. It’s easy to focus on the negatives. It’s easy to point out all of the illegal activities that have happened. It’s easy to focus on that. But that takes away from what the true message is. It’s that people have rights. They have the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to use their voices.

And if you talk to a majority of police officers who work at the Normal Police Department, that’s why we took this job. It’s to ensure people have the right to use their voices. We want that. We encourage all of those things. We want people to have peaceful protests and have their voices heard. And then to see others take advantage of that and turn it into criminal activities later on at night, after the peaceful protest, that also plays a large role in the up and down of emotion.

What is it like to be a police officer in 2020? What are some of those additional duties you’ve picked up along the way that have increased the scope of the job?

Just like everything else, every profession evolves. There is a need for us to in some of those (social service) arenas. There’s a need for us to be trained in those areas, because ultimately when – let’s take the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), for example. When they’re out there trying to do their jobs and things go bad, they call the police for help. So we have to be able to understand the function of different social services in our area.

"We want to be the change. We want to lift people up. We don't want to stand in the way."

When I first started, there was a big push for us to be trained in crisis intervention and mental illness, just learning about folks and how to handle them in a proper way. No matter what happens, we’re always going to be called to those things, because we’re the last line of help. I think the training that has evolved over the course of the last 16 years of my career is needed. We understand that.

You hear the phrase “stay in your lane.” Unfortunately for law enforcement, our lane gets blurred. And we need that training to understand how to appropriately and responsibly respond.

Some are calling for defunding of the police, which is a shorthand for cutting police funding and reinvesting that money into social programs and other things that could directly help people and perhaps indirectly address criminal activity. What do you think of that idea?

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. I get what they’re trying to say. I think funding needs to be increased in those areas where there’s a deficiency. I don’t know where that money comes from or how we get there. There are a lot of social service agencies in our area that are fantastic, that we have great partnerships with. It’d be wonderful if they had more funding.

As a police officer, I don’t see how you can cut from the police department. I’m not really a numbers person anyway. You’ll have to talk to somebody who is smarter than me. But I get their idea behind it. I understand where they’re coming from.

Obviously, I don’t think that’s the whole answer at all. I think everybody in those social services areas needs more funding. But I do believe law enforcement is still going to be called. We’re still gonna be asked to help in those areas, so we need funding as well to be trained in those areas. It’s not just going to go away overnight. It’s been an evolution.

There’s been a lot of reporting about how, especially in larger cities, police unions have at times been a barrier to reforms or the disciplining of officers who commit bad acts. What about here in Normal? Are police unions a barrier to change here?

Those larger cities are where you’re getting that, where they’ve maybe stood in the way of getting rid of officers. I’ve been a member of the PBPA, as either vice president or president, since 2008, and never once has there been a time in my tenure when there’s been an officer who has done something that we know to be wrong and we’ve stood up for them. Obviously, we have an obligation they get the protections they’re afforded by their union dues and things like that, and that they have access to legal (help). But when it becomes criminal, we wash our hands of that.

None of us want to stand next to a bad cop. None of us want what happened in Minnesota to reflect on the way we do our job. You’ll find with the Normal Police Department that the people who care the most are the ones who are hurt the most by this, because they truly believe in what they’re doing. They truly believe they’re here to make a difference. We take it to heart. 

What else do you want people to know about you and what other Normal officers are processing this moment?

Everyone’s perspective is their perspective. I don’t know that we can change that. I speak for all of us here when I say those things that happened in Minnesota, we don’t condone those. We don’t believe that’s an appropriate use of force. That’s not something we’ve ever been trained to do here at the Normal Police Department.

We want change too. We want people to see us and understand that we are here to help. That’s our No. 1 focus.

One thing that’s resonated with me over the past three weeks is that there are a lot of people who do appreciate us, and who’ve reached out and thanked us for what we do. And I think what’s important to know is that we’ll be here throughout the process to help in whatever way we can, to endure the changes that are about to come, to make sure we move forward in the right direction.

The public needs to know that law enforcement—specifically in Normal—wants to help. We want to be the change. We want to lift people up. We don’t want to stand in the way.

You just said, ‘You want change too.’ What do you mean?

Anytime you see someone misuse their power, you don’t want that to happen again. You want oversight. You want training so that doesn’t happen. We have it specifically down here. We get trained. We understand what the appropriate use of force is down here. We make sure everyone is on the same page. We don’t want that to repeat itself.

And we realize people are human. People are inevitably going to make mistakes. Regardless of what job you do, there are mistakes to be made. That’s not condoning what happened whatsoever. But I’m not so ignorant to think that there aren’t others that will make mistakes as we move forward, in every walk of life, in every profession we have. How we mitigate that and move forward is important. It starts with open conversation.

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