The display of taser shields during a recent protest outside the county jail prompted an apology from Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. and a change in policy. (Screen capture)

James Coleman —

A slate of reforms designed to curb the use of excessive force and the procurement of military equipment by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and Shelby County corrections officers continued to be a focal point of discussion during Monday’s Shelby County Commission meeting.

The proposed regulations, which were considered on the second of three required readings, come in the wake of a string of incidents over the past several months involving law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Videos of police shooting citizens and the mistreatment of African Americans in custody or under arrest have drawn accusations of excessive force and prompted waves of protests, with individuals questioning what they see as the increasing militarization of police forces.

One of the proposed measures seeks to curb the sheriff department’s purchasing or receipt of decommissioned military equipment. It also would require clear rules be put in place to limit their use by county law enforcement agencies. The measure was amended from a previous version, which would have banned the acquisition of military vehicles, bayonets and ammunition above a certain caliber.

“The sheriff says that he does not need these items and he does not seek to purchase these items. We are just saying don’t receive them either,” said Commissioner Van Turner Jr. (District 12), who said the ordinances are not intended to be anti-police but rather measures to promote safe communities.

Turner also pushed back on the argument that military-grade weapons were needed to protect the community.

“To say that we have to militarize law enforcement in order to stop homicides in our community – those arguments are separate. In order to stop homicides and (bring) youth balance in our community there are other things that should be done without militarizing law enforcement,” said Turner.

He offered other strategies for curbing crime, including quality and accessible education, strategies to address acute childhood experiences and expanded job opportunities.

“You start when you allow young people getting out of a youth detention center to have ways of making a living or getting back in school,” said Turner.

Last week, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. issued an apology for his deputies being armed with shock shields during a protest outside the county jail.

“We all saw the shields. They looked like something out of ‘Iron Man 5,’” said Commissioner Tami Sawyer. “There is no reason for them to have been used. There is no reason for people who join together – a small group of less than 30 people at the time, maybe – no reason for them to have had that interaction while they came out to use their constitutionally-given right to express their grief and a decision that the majority of the country agrees reeks of injustice.

This highlights the reason we need to codify these things,” said Sawyer, who sponsored three of the resolutions.