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

Below is a transcript of an interview with Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida that aired Sunday, January 29, 2023, on Face the Nation.

Margaret Brennan: One day after the video of Nichols’ fatal photo encounter with police was made public, Memphis police have shut down their SCORPION unit, a specialized group that includes the five officers now charged with second-degree murder. For more, we now go to former Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings, who spent 27 years with the Orlando Police Department, including four years as its chief. It’s good to talk to you.

Val Dings: 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 hitting Tyre Nichols?

Demmings: You know, as someone who’s spent 27 years in law enforcement, he started as an officer on the midnight shift and served every rank as chief of police. I’ve seen the police at their best, and I’ve seen them at their worst. But what I saw in the video was shocking and horrifying. The horrific beating. My heart goes out to Wells-Nichols’ family, and his community. You know, and I appreciate Mrs. Wells’ words when she not only spoke of the horrific death of her son, but also spoke to the five officers involved by saying that you have disgraced yourselves and your family. So, as a professional law enforcement officer, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Margaret Brennan: It turns out to me that these five officers in Memphis range in age from 24 to 32, and they’ve all been hired within the last six years. Is this an experience problem? Is this a bad cop problem?

Demmings: You know, Margaret, it’s very important to look, as police executives, you know, there’s not a lot of appetite. We know now in Washington, D.C., to innovate the national standards that I think are badly needed. I also wondered what state legislatures were willing to do. But it’s now up to police executives, chiefs or mayors to come up with much-needed reforms that start with hiring the best and brightest, with psychological assessments as part of that to ensure fitness for duty. And look, I’m more familiar with specialized units. Many of them are the result of calls from the community to officers to tackle crime activities, such as drug activity and gang activity, but we have to make sure as police executives that we put the most experienced and experienced officers in this well-trained and highly supervised unit. So when I look back at the night I went off the track in Memphis, there are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be answered.

Margaret Brennan: But we’re hearing from mayors all over this country that they’re facing, in many places, a shortage of police officers, of people willing to do the work, and the mayor of New Orleans was here last week telling us that. She has now requested federal guards and ATF agents in her city. But why is this a problem?

Demings: Well, you know that hiring, as someone who actually hires law enforcement officers, has always been difficult, not necessarily because of a lack of numbers. But the effort to make sure we hire people who have the right temperament to be able to do the job. I can remember that within a year there were 40,000 people wanting to be police officers in Orlando, and we ended up hiring maybe 20 of those 40,000, trying to make every effort to make sure we were hiring the best person to do the job. And so recruitment has always been a challenge. But we also again, police executives need to be creative, not just wait for people to knock on that door. But going out to different communities to visit college campuses, and making sure that police departments continue to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. This is when we must use new and innovative approaches to make sure we bring the right men and women together. It really starts with hiring, making sure we bring in the right men and women to do the job.

Margaret Brennan: How would you judge the performance of the Memphis Police Chief who said this unit, the SCORPION unit, did a good job?

Dinges: You know, I know CJ Davis. She is a professional law enforcement officer. Served as Vice President in Atlanta, Durham President. She is now of course the boss in Memphis and I think she dealt with this very tragic incident as well as she could. We’ve all commented on the quick action with — firing them — we’re working very closely with the DA to bring those charges forward in a very prompt way. She has also been very transparent with the community. And we need to see more of that, kid. She was also the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officials. She is a very good coach and I think, while this is one of the most difficult moments in our country, she is the right leader to lead us through this very difficult time.

Margaret Brennan: Well, I wonder because I was — you know, reading an article in New York Magazine called “The End of Police Reform,” and she pointed out — and in Memphis, adjustments have been made since 2020, in terms of de-escalation mandate and chokehold prohibition. There were body cameras, that wasn’t a deterrent here. 60% of the police force is black with a black chief of police. Even with these modifications, this horrible situation occurred. So when you hear calls for police reform, what do you think makes the difference? Or is it just recruiting?

Demings: Margaret, we’ve been making calls to 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 Police Justice Act, which no – we all know wasn’t perfect. But gosh, I’m sure it was a huge step in the right direction. And I think a lot of police executives think that any criticism of the police or any efforts to reform or modify recruitment standards, or modify training standards, make sure they have the technology that they need to be better able to do the job, to claim the citizens. Better databases and enforcement. A lot of people see that because we don’t support the police. Well, I see it exactly that way. Support the police, giving them the tools they need to do the job, but also to hold them accountable. And so yeah, it’s not just about hiring, it certainly starts with hiring, when they’re in training, to make sure we have the right field training officers that we know are setting the standards for what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable on the street. Considering – internally, into policies and amending use of force policies. Yeah, body cams, think if we didn’t have that footage – but this situation was off the rails and so out of 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 will come back.

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