Trying to put people 'at ease,' CPD Chief Biermaier explains what his department does, and doesn't do

Mike Christopherson

Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier says that the department he leads, in order to avoid the situations that have led to protests in cities from coast to coast, is almost constantly undergoing training in the areas of defensive tactics, and proper and appropriate and necessary use of force in order to gain control of a person or situation. 

“It’s all we do,” Biermaier told the Crookston City Council in a presentation Monday evening made at the request of Mayor Dale Stainbrook.

A Minneapolis police officer is charged with murder in the death of George Floyd two weeks ago and three other officers on the scene are also facing charges. Since Floyd’s death, protests have been held and continue to be held across the country, with protesters seeking change in police practices, police budgets and what they say is systemic racism that makes it possible for the police to treat people of color differently than they treat white people.

Biermaier in his talk rattled off an extensive list of trainings and best practices utilized at the CPD that are designed to de-escalate situations and avoid any type of violent arrests or an escalating use of force on the part of responding officers. Much of what the CPD does, the chief noted, follows State of Minnesota guidelines put in place as a result of the work of President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force several years ago.

Biermaier said it’s the CPD’s daily goal to come to a “peaceful resolution of all situations” and that the goal is met far more often than it’s not. “With the training we do, I’m not trying to portray our department as better than the rest or perfect because it’s not that and there is always room for improvement,” he explained. “But we are proactive.”

He said the CPD trains in “crisis intervention” across the board, including a greater deal of focus recently on mental health issues. “Conflict management” and “mediation” are other training focuses, Biermaier said. “We learn about implicit and explicit biases, and community diversity and cultural differences every year,” he explained. 

It’s often a “fluent situation” when an officer or multiple officers respond to a call. “We’re constantly assessing and reassessing, and responding accordingly,” Biermaier said.

The scene in Minneapolis

Floyd died after officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee pressed on his neck for almost nine minutes. Biermaier said CPD officers are not trained in chokeholds, strangleholds or anything that restricts a person’s airway or otherwise compromises one’s ability to breathe.

“We don’t do that,” he said. “We train to exhaust every possible means to avoid using deadly force.”

The use of force may ramp up depending on what is transpiring at a scene, he explained.

“Soft-hand” techniques may involve an “arm-bar” escort, and if necessary a taser or mace will be deployed, then “hard-hand” techniques and “impact instruments” such as a baton. But, Biermaier added, he can’t recall the last time a Crookston officer used a baton.

Every officer on a call is required to fill out a “use of force” report and Biermaier said he sees all of them. “So we all know what’s going on,” he said.

Rarely in Crookston is someone, such as Floyd was in Minneaoplis, handcuffed in a prone position or on their stomach. “Most are standing up because the person is compliant,” Biermaier explained. But if someone is handcuffed in a prone position or on their stomach, CPD officers are trained to move them onto their side as soon as possible, get them to sit up, and eventually stand.

“This is what we train to do; it’s second nature to us,” he added. “We’re not even thinking about it.”

Verbal communication between officers at every scene is key, Biermaier added, even if he’s on a scene with his “most rookie” officer. Verbal communication with a suspect or suspects at a scene is also critical. “We’re constantly training to verbalize our intentions to a subject,” he explained. “We give them an opportunity to comply with commands, and also to know what force we might be about to use.” That is important for bystanders, as well, who may have gathered at the scene, he noted.Officers are trained to identify life-threatening situations and are able to provide basic life-saving measures. They can clear an airway and, in an overdose situation, carry Naloxone/Narcan spray to revive a person.

If an ambulance needs to be summoned, it will be. Biermaier said people taken into custody are often taken to the ER “if we have any questions at all” so that medical professionals have the final say on whether a suspect remains at the hospital or can be taken to the jail.

Current updates

The CPD is currently in the process of filling officer openings. The hiring process always involves a psychiatric evaluation that involves up to three different types of tests. Officer candidates also undergo a sit-down interview with a psychiatrist, Biermaier noted near the end of his talk. 

He also mentioned the council’s recent purchase of body cameras for officers and said Lt. Darin Selzler is in the midst of training on how enact the best policies that allow for the most appropriate use of the cameras.

The Times also asked Biermaier about legislation passed years ago that allows police departments across the country to access military surplus equipment. It has come under fire from critics who say it has resulted in police officers responding to scenes in tank-like machines and dressed more like battle soldiers in full body armor than officers. There are currently calls to repeal the legislation.

Biermaier told the Times that he believes the CPD has only acquired four rifles through the military surplus program.