HCPD chief 'appalled’ by George Floyd’s death, vows department will be ‘professional’

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 6:39 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - For the past two weeks, many across the country have mourned the death of a man who died while in police custody.

Many have watched the videos and heard the cries and chants for justice and equality following George Floyd’s death.

As calls grow louder for reforming law enforcement throughout the country, Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill shared his perspective as a black man and a member of law enforcement.

“I was appalled because I knew I’m looking at a human being. Take color out of it, I’m looking at a human being being extinguished right before our eyes by someone who I’m supposed to trust and someone who’s in my profession that I whole heartedly believe in,” Hill said about the moment he first saw the video of Floyd on the ground with a Minneapolis police officer’s knee in his neck. “I knew what this was going to drive our country to with everything that was going on.”

Hill said if he could have transported himself to the spot at the given time in Minneapolis on May 25, he would have pulled that officer off of Floyd, and he believes other officers around the country - black and white - would have done the same thing.

The incident involving former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has sparked a lot of conversations. Hill said he has been a part of a few himself, talking with people who are concerned, even his own children.

“I’ve had my son come to me with some concerns and he has been a cop’s kid his whole life. I’ve been policing for about 35 years. He’s 23 years-old, and my daughter who is wonderful is 30, she has some concerns. They shouldn’t have any concerns,” said Hill. “I’ve had people - family members, friends - come to me and say, ‘I’m scared for my son or daughter, black and white to be stopped by the cops.’ That’s not the way it should be. There should be no fear that you’re going to be hurt by a police officer for just being who you are.”

Hill said the nation’s current climate has him worried about his police officers.

“My officers are being labeled as racists when they had nothing to do with the Minneapolis incident,” Hill said.

The chief said he doesn’t have all the answers but he’s working to address the issues of law enforcement and change its perception, something that is very important to him.

“So, I don't know for me as a black chief, how do I get in front of this and tell my community you have nothing to fear from us. We are making strides internally to keep our agency a professional foot hold, and I will hold these officers accountable, including myself,” Hill said.

He said the HCPD holds its officers to a higher standard, and only ultimate professionalism is expected out of every one.

Hill’s other worry is how to move the community forward. However, he believes he’s moving in the right direction.

This month, the department made it policy to ban chokeholds. According to Hill, South Carolina teaches the tactic, but it’s not often used.

The department’s show of force policy was also updated. It now states that an officer must intervene if they observe another officer using excessive force. The department recently upgraded its body camera system, which Hill stated now includes car video.

“Officers are compelled to report a violation on another officer or intervene when an officer is involved in a situation that is inappropriate or outside the professional realm of policing,” said Hill.

Hill said law enforcement unions can make it difficult to terminate an officer.

“If an officer does not deserve to wear the badge of the Horry County Police Department, then I have no use for them and I will get rid of them,” Hill said.

Unlike other departments across the country, he doesn’t have that problem because there is no union in Horry County.

“The union steps in and protects them and sometimes to the detriment of the community and that agency. I don’t have that here,” Hill said.

This week several ministers in the Longs areas asked to meet with Hill. That meeting was held at Chesterfield Missionary Baptist Church. The chief said he wasn’t sure about where the meeting would go.

“The meeting was to hear from the community, to hear their concerns about Minneapolis, their concerns about law enforcement in general, and our practices in Horry County and what we’re doing to connect with the community, and also to hold our officers accountable,” he said.

Hill said the meeting focused on how to keep black communities safe. He noted many of the communities of color have a high crime rate, and his department has been working to identity problem areas and get rid of gang violence, and drugs.

“We’re going to continue to be in the community, hold community events, educate folks, fight crime, arrest the people who need to be arrested, but we’re going to be extremely professional at doing that,” said Hill.

He added that includes bringing white officers into communities of color so they can hear from those who often feel unheard.

“So, if we’re going to have a productive conversation, we have to do it when it’s not a crisis. Come before us, call us,” Hill said. “If you have concerns about law enforcement, I’m not going to be defensive about it. I want to hear about it so I can correct those problems. If it’s a problem with perception, then we need to work through that and talk it out, but we need to have the conversations when there’s not a crisis happening in our country.”

Hill encouraged the community to file a complaint with the department if a person has an issue or problem with a police officer.

“Don’t just keep it to yourself,” Hill said.

He said to think prejudice or racism doesn't exist is foolish, but that he is working hard to make sure everyone in his community, no matter their skin color, is treated fairly and his officers will handle all situations in a professional manner.

“I can’t eliminate that as much as I want to. That’s a human condition. But what I can do is (say) you check your biases at the door or you can no longer walk through my door into the Horry County Police Department if I find out about it,” he said.

WMBF News anchor Christel Bell’s full interview with Chief Hill can be seen below:

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