Transcription: Rep. Val Demings on “Face the Nation,” January 29, 2023

The following is a transcript of an interview with Democratic Representative Val Demings of Florida that aired Sunday, January 29, 2023 on “Face the Nation.”

MARGARET BRENNAN: A day after the video of Tyre Nichols’ fatal encounter with police was released, Memphis police shut down their SCORPION Unit, a specialized group that includes the five officers now charged with second-degree murder. For more, we now turn to former Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings, who spent 27 years with the Orlando Police Department, including four years as chief. It’s good to talk to you.

VAL DEMINGS: Margaret, thank you. It’s good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What was your reaction when you saw the video of these five officers beating Tyre Nichols?

DEMINGS: You know, as someone who spent 27 years in law enforcement, starting as an officer on the midnight patrol and serving in all ranks as a police chief. I’ve seen policing at its best, and I’ve seen it at its worst. But what I saw in the video was shocking and horrifying. The horrific beating. My heart goes out to the Wells-Nichols family, it goes out to his community. You know, and I so appreciate the words of Mrs. Wells when she not only spoke of her son’s horrific death, but spoke to the five officers involved by saying that you dishonored yourself and your own family. So as a career police officer I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It stood out to me that the five officers in Memphis were between 24 and 32 years old, they were all hired within the last six years. Is this a problem of experience? Is this a bad cop problem?

DEMINGS: You know, Margaret, it’s so important that we watch, as police leaders, and you know there’s not a lot of appetite. We know in Washington, DC now to come up with the national standards that I think are so desperately needed. I also questioned what state legislators are willing to do. But this now falls back on police chiefs or chiefs or sheriffs to come up with much-needed reforms that start with hiring the brightest and the best, with psychological evaluations as part of that to ensure fitness for duty. And look, I’m more than familiar with specialized devices. Many of them are the result of calls from the community for officers to address crime, and like drug activity, gang activity, but we have to make sure as police leaders that we put the most experienced and most experienced officers in this unit that is well trained and highly monitored . So when I look at the night that unfolded in Memphis, there are many questions that are unanswered but need to be answered.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But we’re hearing from mayors across this country that in many places they’re facing a shortage of police officers, people who are willing to do the job, the mayor of New Orleans was here last week and told us that. She has now requested federal marshals and ATF agents in her town. But why is this such a problem?

DEMINGS: Well, you know hiring, as someone who has actually hired police officers, it’s always been challenging, not necessarily because of the lack of numbers. But the effort to make sure we hire people who have the right temperament to do the job. I remember in one year we had 40,000 people who wanted to be police officers in Orlando and we ended up hiring maybe 20 of those 40,000 and trying to do everything we could to make sure we hired the best person to do the job. Therefore, it has always been challenging to hire. But we also again, police leaders have to be creative, not just wait for people to knock on that door. But going out into diverse communities that visit colleges, and making sure that police departments continue to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. This is a time when we need to use new and creative approaches to ensure we bring in the right men and women. It really starts with hiring, and making sure we get the right men and women in to do the job.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How would you rate the performance of the Memphis police chief who has said that this unit, the SCORPION unit, did a good job?

DEMINGS: You know, I know CJ Davis. She is a professional law enforcement officer. She worked as a deputy in Atlanta, the chief of Durham. She is now, of course, the boss in Memphis, and I think she has handled this very tragic event as well as she could. We all have — have commented on the swift action of — the firing — are working very closely with the DA to bring these charges forward in a very expeditious manner. She has also been very transparent with the community. And boy, do we need to see more of it. She was also president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. She is very well trained. And I believe, even though this is one of the toughest moments in our country, that she is the right leader to lead us through this very tough time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I’m wondering because I read a piece in New York Magazine titled “The End of Police Reform,” and it pointed out — and in Memphis, adjustments had been made since 2020, in terms of mandate. tapering, ban on chokeholds. There were body cameras, there was no deterrent here. The police force is 60% black, it reported, with a black police chief. Even with these adjustments, this terrible situation occurred. So when you hear calls for police reform, what is the reform, do you think that makes the difference? Or is it just recruitment?

DEMINGS: Margaret, we’ve called the police – for police reform. Especially since the brutal death of George Floyd. Now let me say this, I was in Congress during the time George voted for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which no, we all know it wasn’t perfect. But gosh, I certainly think it was a big step in the right direction. And I think too many police leaders believe that any criticism of the police or any effort to reform or change hiring standards, modified training standards, making sure they have the technology they need to do the job better, and calling for national databases and better enforcement. Too many people see it as we do not support the police. Well, I see it as exactly that. Support the police, give them the tools they need to do the job, but also to hold them accountable. And so yes, it does – it’s not just hiring, but it certainly starts with hiring, when they’re in training, and making sure we have the right field training officers who we know set the bar for what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable the street. Looking internally, at policies and modifying these the use of power politics. Yes, the body cameras, imagine if we didn’t have this footage – but this situation was so off the rails and so outside the box. There is a lot of work to be done here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I- I hear your passion there. Thanks for sharing your analysis with us. We’ll be back in a moment.

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