Granite Shoals police officers open the doors to a patrol vehicle so Highland Lakes Elementary School students can look inside, an example of community policing that is important to Chief Gary Boshears. Courtesy photo
As questions are being asked across the country regarding the role of police departments in communities, Granite Shoals Police Chief Gary Boshears offered insight into how his department balances use of force with community policing.
The Granite Shoals Police Department is involved in its community in big ways, such as the annual school supplies and Christmas toy drives and Easter Egg hunt, as well as small ways not seen by the population at large: stopping by a home to bring stickers or a coloring book to a child celebrating a birthday, eating lunch with students at Highland Lakes Elementary School, or visiting the city’s senior center to say hello to members.
“What I really like are the little things we do,” Boshears said. “The little things – I can’t describe them all.”
One little thing involved minor car repair. Boshears said an officer had stopped the same man several times for a tail light that was out. The man finally confessed that it hadn’t been taken care of because he didn’t know how to replace the bulb. The officer told him to purchase a new bulb and come by the police station, where he would install it for him.
These actions are often reciprocated with food.
“Fairly frequently,” Boshears said of how often residents bring food to the officers. “It’s a thank you for something special, a thank you for what we do.”
At a City Council meeting June 9, one resident told the chief she wanted to bring a cake to the station. Boshears was at the meeting to give a two-page presentation on the department’s use of force policies.
Under the policies, the department prohibits using chokeholds, other types of neck restraints, and carotid artery restraint. This “has been in place for years,” according to Boshears. Since the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, many people — including elected officials — have called for banning such restraints.
“It’s not effective to accomplish the goal,” Boshears said. “The goal is to restrain someone, not cause injury. We’re trying to avoid injury to that person.”
A new amendment says that if officers forcefully take someone to the ground, they must place the person in an upright position once they are handcuffed. In addition, officers must call EMS to check on the individual.
“I put that in about three weeks ago,” the chief said. “These were things we were thinking about anyway, and we’re trying to get out in front of it and do that.”
The Granite Shoals Police Department also doesn’t use rubber bullets or projectiles.
“In my opinion, I don’t think it’s something that’s particularly effective, number one,” the chief said. “And number two, if you’re going to use them, it has to be done in a correct way. I don’t think for our community and the things we run into it’s an effective tool.”
The department uses both body and dashboard cameras, which are activated once the emergency lights in a patrol vehicle are turned on, though the cameras are on a 30-second pre-event recording cycle. That means they record every 30 seconds and then continuously record once activated.
The department keeps videos of incidents not involving an arrest or use of force for 120 days, longer than the standard retention policy dictates, while videos of felonies, misdemeanors, and use of force are kept indefinitely.
The department’s use of force policies were adapted from a model written by the Texas Police Chiefs Association, considered a gold standard for policies in the state, Boshears said. He reviews the policies each year to ensure they conform to current best practices.
The department also purposefully employs officers of different races and religious and socio-economic backgrounds as well as both genders.
“I think that’s super important,” Boshears said. “You want a department that represents your community. Everybody that works here is working here because we feel like they meet the values of this community.”
To explain those values, Boshears offered another story.
Recently, a resident who splits his time between his home in Austin and Granite Shoals came to the police station to speak to Boshears. The man told the chief he and his family decided to self-isolate in Granite Shoals due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ventured out to a park one day. While there, he encountered two Granite Shoals officers. The man said they were “friendly and polite” and made him and his family “feel safe.”
All the man wanted to do was let Boshears know that his officers’ approach to their role in the community reflects his view of how Texans should take care of each other.
“He said, ‘Living here just feels like Texas,’” Boshears said.