Ask a Cop: Policing reform, chokeholds & de-escalation

Illustration by Emma Crevier

Welcome to the latest edition of Watershed Voice’s “Ask a Cop” series with Det. Sgt. Sam Smallcombe of the Three Rivers Police Department.

Smallcombe will answer questions from readers and WSV staff alike twice a month to provide a platform “for information sharing” and “clearing up misconceptions.” If you have a question you would like to ask the detective, email Watershed Voice at [email protected], message us on our Facebook page or give us a call at (269) 244-6055.

The following interview was conducted via email on Tuesday, June 23 by Executive Editor Alek Haak-Frost with Det. Sgt. Sam Smallcombe.

Alek Haak-Frost (AHF): In the month(s) following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the subject of policing reform has dominated the headlines. What, if anything, is the Three Rivers Police Department doing to address those concerns?

Det. Sgt. Sam Smallcombe (SS): In the last month we at the Three Rivers Police Department have had a lot of spirited discussion in regards to recent events. At this time, we are not making changes. We feel like as a department we have the advantage over larger departments in larger cities. We are a small department and we serve a small community. 

This gives us the advantage to build relationships with the community we serve that is sometimes missing from large cities with large departments. That is why we do not want to make knee jerk changes that may not be appropriate for a department our size nor possible with our budget. 

We as a department feel that we have been forward thinking for some time. For example; we adopted body cameras back in 2013 when they first became available and affordable. We just asked for and received in the latest budget a capital project to replace our ageing in-car video system. As a department we switched over to using Tasers back in 2005 and no longer issue batons.  All reports involving use of force are reviewed for adherence to policy and any citizen complaints that we receive our reviewed by the Chief of Police. 

I would invite anyone to come and do a ride along with us or another agency. See what law enforcement is really like. Maybe you might decide it is something you would like to pursue further and join as an auxiliary officer or become a police officer. I can assure you it’s nothing like you see on television.  

AHF: What are the department’s policies on the following:

  • Chokeholds/strangleholds
  • De-escalation
  • Duty to intervene: Requiring officers to intervene, stop excessive force use by other officers, and report these incidents
  • Comprehensive reporting
  • Shooting at motor vehicles 

SS: I will only address a couple of these. In the State of Michigan chokeholds/stranglehold — more specifically respiratory neck restraint and vascular neck restraint — are considered deadly force. For more information you can research King vs United States, 917 F3d 409 (6th Cir. 2019) and Coley vs Lucas City., 799 F.3d 530 (6th Cir. 2015). These are both cases decided by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that includes Michigan. The law concerning deadly force in Michigan is MCL 780.972, which basically states you may use deadly force in defense of yourself or someone else if you feel in danger of imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault. 

The reason we don’t teach respiratory neck restraints or vascular neck restraints or even practice them is they are so dangerous, thus why they are considered deadly force. There is too much of a risk of a delayed fatality from a carotid artery dissection, respiratory complications such as pneumonia, and risk of blood clots traveling to the brain. 

Next let’s talk about de-escalation. As a department we have trained in de-escalation. All of our officers went through a 40-hour program called CIT (Crisis Intervention Training). The training covered calming down a situation so that it can be resolved without violence or injury. I believe one of the things that goes back to the size of our department and the size of our community, more than likely when we make contact with an individual, there is already a familiarity between the people and the officers. 

AHF: Would the TRPD consider hosting a public forum to discuss these issues?

SS: At this time for obvious reasons we are not considering a public forum due to the uptick in cases of Covid-19 in our county. We have in the past sat in on public forums that were organized by other groups in Three Rivers. 

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.


Sam Smallcombe is a Sergeant with 18 years of experience with the Three Rivers Police Department currently assigned as the department’s Detective. He is a Three Rivers native and currently resides in Three Rivers with his wife and children including a spoiled black lab, and a mini rex named Voldemort.

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