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Truckee Police Chief Retires After Sending Internal Email Claiming George Floyd Was 'Not Innocent'

Police Chief speaking at Town Hall
Screenshot / Town of Truckee Council TV via YouTube
Truckee Police Chief Rob Leftwich speaks at an online Town Hall on systemic racism and police brutality on Monday, June 8.

The Truckee Police Department announced Thursday that its chief, Rob Leftwich, will retire.

This comes after Leftwich faced public criticism after sending a controversial email to other Town of Truckee employees, in which shared his perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement. In it, he claimed George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man killed by police in Minneapolis, was "not innocent."

At a town hall held Monday concerning systemic racism and police brutality, Leftwich apologized. “[George Floyd] didn't deserve a single bit of it," he said, "And I don't know if I've publicly said that, but it's an atrocity, it should be condemned, and it really is a tragedy that has sparked a bigger conversation that probably was so needed in our country."

Leftwich's last day will be July 3, according to a Truckee Police Facebook post. The department said he served four years as police chief, and spent nearly 10 years with the department.

Full text of the email is below:

From: Robert Leftwich Date: June 1, 2020 at 8:17:40 AM PD To: town-employees Subject: Local Approach to Civil Unrest Good Morning All, I have addressed this email to all employees but most of it is more applicable to our Police Department staff. They have heard this all before. I think it is important during times like these that we all have the correct perspective and talking points for community members that might ask. As if COVID had not frayed our nerves enough, this weekend has developed into a new mess across our nation. As most urban and suburban areas deal with some level of protests around the death of George Floyd, several areas have developed into widespread rioting that no longer has any resemblance of normal public outcry. At this point, I remain cautiously optimistic that Truckee will not see organized rioting in the same way that many cities have. Most of the large scale rioting is politically motivated and organized by groups similar to Antifa or radicalized cells of Black Lives Matter. The goal is to have the resistance become mob-like and grow with fringe criminal elements joining in. Eventually, the conflicts cause frenzy and a certain lawlessness spreads throughout the crowd. The organized instigators are often from out of the area and they desire a high level of media coverage and a significant police presence that is likely to cause police conflict that can be filmed and edited to further their narrative. Truckee provides little of those opportunities and will likely not be a location that is worth traveling to. We could see graffiti and some vandalism that develops into looting but the events will likely be smaller, short lived and consist of local actors who want to mimic what they are seeing in the news, if it happens at all. Typically, residential neighborhoods are not impacted and people are able to maintain a high level of safety by staying in their homes or offices. Driving to where the action is to witness what is going on is where some make a critical mistake. It is easy to get caught in the traffic or to become a victim of the violence. Riots are not demonstrations and you are not "standing in solidarity." Simply said, our best advice to people is to stay away and stay inside if rioting develops. Our enforcement philosophy will be as it is with most things, reasonable, efficient and swift actions that mitigate the problem as best as possible. Although the terms are not the exact technical definitions that some of us learned in training, the following illustrates what we are seeing across the Country. Demonstration (Rally) – This is the most likely thing we will encounter in the next few days. Tuesday has two events in the planning stages and these groups of people are typically on the sidewalks, holding signs and do nothing to involve those that choose not to be involved. Our role will be to help them safely hold their demonstration and protect their right to peacefully assemble. We will make contact with organizers and offer any services or suggestions that will make their event safer for participants. Protest – This is a more robust demonstration. As it develops, certain members of the demonstration might start blocking streets, business doorways or marching down the middle of the street. We become more alert to the actions of the group because their actions start to involve others who might not want to be involved. This can cause conflict and it can quickly escalate into people trying to drive through the protesting group or groups starting to form as counter protests. We will make all reasonable efforts to divert traffic and give the group a period of time to protest but also allow for a normal dispersion over time. We will coordinate with organizers to drive the group back into a Demonstration mode but allowing organizers to be the lead. Unlawful Assembly – At some point, we might have to declare a protest an unlawful assembly if we feel there is a significant risk to safety. Our orders to the crowd will be clear and several duplicative orders will be given with clear timeframes for the crowd to disperse. Most of the time, police will be working through the unlawful assembly process as we develop strategic plans to move the group. When you see large groups of police personnel arriving and lines of officers forming, this is likely the developing strategy. Riot – Fairly self-explanatory. Large crowds began to move quickly or run through streets. It begins to feel chaotic and you start to see vandalism develop. The vandalism develops and grows into fire setting, destruction of vehicles and broken windows on businesses. Broken windows develops into looting and parts of the mod begin lashing out at those not involved. This is exactly what we have been seeing develop in several cities. Do not be fooled by news stories that refer to this as "demonstrations" or "protests." It is rioting, pure and simple. There are elements that started as protests but once it devolves, there is no reason to believe it is anything other than what it appears to be. Anyone reasonable and only wanting to be part of a demonstration has no business sticking around. Our Police Department's role is complicated. Our job is actually to protect people's right to demonstrate and protest. We need to be incredibly cautious to not act too soon and have it appear as though we are preventing a reasonable level of protesting. Doing so can make a town or city a target for those groups who are looking to prove a point. Being too proactive can actually bring bigger issues. At the same time, our actions can't be too slow. When we sense the crowd is devolving from protest and into fringe rioting, we need to separate those actors and act reasonably and swiftly. Letting the frenzy spread will likely never result in the core group losing interest and dispersing. If we should see demonstrations or protests over the next few weeks, it is critical to not assume that a riot situation is eminent. Our history is Truckee has proven time and time again that reasonable people act reasonably. It is likely nothing to be concerned about. If you chose to not be involved, turn the other way. If you get caught in a group, look for a police officer and calmly explain that you want out of the crowd but don't know where to go, they will lead you out. When incidents happen, like what happen to Mr. Floyd, people feel compelled to do something and be part of change. I am not going to argue against the perception of police brutality or systemic racism, although neither have even been close to my experience and interactions with hundreds if not thousands of law enforcement professionals. I will tell you that we have close to 800 thousand law enforcement officers in this country. Annually, it is likely that police interact with well over 500 million people. Calculating those events that do end tragically out of some 500 million interactions is a percentage that is hard to imagine. Police are prosecuted at a lower per capita rate than doctors, lawyers, teachers and even fire fighters. We are one of the most regulated industries in our nation with some of the most stringent training requirements. To say that law enforcement needs to "change" is a bit of a misnomer because we are in a constant state of adaptation around community perceptions. We have been adapting our strategies for decades around community expectations and concerns. Officers in most modern agencies are video and audio recorded for their entire shift. That is worth repeating…conceptualize for a second what it might be like for you in your job to be video and audio recorded through your entire work day. To know if there is any question about your performance that your boss can review and critique every second of your actions after the fact and compare that to policy manuals that are hundreds of pages. Lastly and without trying to be defensive in the least, I will share a little about what my perspective is. George Floyd did not deserve what happened to him. Mr. Floyd was not innocent and he didn't die because of a knee on his neck but it did contribute to his death. The police tactics that were used, by at least one officer, appear to be professionally negligent and unnecessary. None of that justifies the actions of those that are rioting. None! To prove my point, if you don't know who Patrick Underwood of Pinole, CA is, you should Google him. Patrick was a different African American man who was murdered in cold blood on Friday and he was completely innocent. There is no one demonstrating for him or rioting because of his death. In fact, the news has barely covered who he is. There is not one article from Antifa or Black Lives Matter that discusses his life mattering. I highly encourage all of you to form your own perceptions and opinions and I will help support those to the end of time. Just try to make sure they are void of the political noise that seems to be trying to influence our perception of what all this is really about. Rob Leftwich Chief of Police Truckee Police Department

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXKVwoUtQEw" target="_blank">View the video.

Bree Zender is a former host and reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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