Amid a nationwide discussion on police brutality and race relations, the Hailey City Council passed a resolution Monday banning officers from using tear gas and requiring a verbal warning whenever possible prior to the use of deadly force.

The resolution also continued the department’s ban on chokeholds. According to a draft resolution document from the city, chokeholds are “already prohibited” under Idaho law and not practiced by departments across Idaho, but Police Chief Steve England said that’s not the case. 

“Other agencies can elect to authorize the use of chokeholds in their policy, but we do not,” England clarified in a Wednesday interview.

England also noted that his department had not used tear gas in the past two decades.

“In my 22 years of service, we’ve never had a reason to use tear gas or even think about using it, so I am more than comfortable taking that out of our policy altogether,” England said.

England said residents will be able to meet and chat with Hailey officers during a candid Coffee With Cops community discussion on police practices, scheduled for 8-10 a.m. Wednesday, July 1, on the department lawn along East Cedar Street. Light refreshments and coffee from local coffee shops will be provided, he said.

The council also approved an agreement with the Idaho Office of Drug Policy on Monday that allocates about $20,000 to the Police Department for a yearlong drug-prevention initiative.

The office’s Partnership for Success grant encourages officers to use compliance checks, alcohol-purchasing operations, party patrols and traffic stops to deter youths from using alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine, England said, though the focus will primarily be on curbing underage drinking.

“We do have quite a big problem with underage [alcohol] consumption—we’ve been seeing up to 10 offenses every weekend as of late,” he said. “Obviously, if meth or other drugs are found during our patrols we’ll act accordingly. But the main concern is when you have high-schoolers and kids back from college going to home parties over the holidays and three-day weekends.”

England added that the $20,000 grant will also allow officers to receive overtime payments and cover the expense of another portable breathalyzer.

“This grant would be bringing officers in on overtime for extra patrol. It wouldn’t take anyone on duty off the streets or limit police work,” he said.

Councilman Sam Linnet said that while the city wouldn’t be “any worse off financially” as the grant is nonmatching, he had misgivings about supporting additional drug enforcement policing.

“Programs like this could perpetuate police actions that we’re having a national discussion about, specifically the over-policing of drug offenses,” he said. “I think our large minority population of Hispanic and Latinx residents, our immigrant community, is likely disproportionately affected by policing.”

Linnet then asked England to explain the enforcement tactics stipulated by the grant. Compliance checks are carried out by young members of other law enforcement programs entering stores to determine if clerks are selling alcohol to underage customers, England said. “Shoulder tap” operations are when undercover officers posing as teens hand unsuspecting customers money to purchase alcohol on their behalf.

“These are ways of seeing who is contributing to a culture of underage consumption,” England said.

Linnet said he’s seen some “pretty terrible” examples of officers using coercion to get a bartender or store clerk to sell them alcohol with a fake ID.

“I’m not accusing the Hailey P.D. of doing that, but big picture, I don’t like these programs. The point should not be tricking local business owners into selling alcohol,” he said.

Councilman Juan Martinez, however, said he welcomed reform.

“I grew up in this town,” he said. “I’ve seen our issue with underage drinking firsthand—it’s part of the culture.”

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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