Riley County Police Department Director Dennis Butler (courtesy photo)

Riley County Police Department Director Dennis Butler says the Minnesota jury got it right in convicting former police officer Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

Butler says work to improve police relations among minority communities, who may feel threatened by law enforcement is ongoing.

“For us to turn our heads the other way when crime is occurring, or we have information that crime could occur because it’s occurring in a certain part of the community or involving certain people, is irresponsible and we won’t do that,” he said.

Butler says how officers respond to certain situations, how they treat people and efforts to deescalate situations are all taken very seriously by RCPD.

“When they can deescalate or not push a situation to escalate it, just because they have the authority to do it, the officers here are trained to do that, to take the time they need, not be in a hurry and try to prevent anyone from being hurt, injured or killed,” he said.

But a growing number of nationally reported officer involved shootings where the victims are African American men and women have exacerbated distrust of police among those communities.

At the local level, the Manhattan Coalition for Equal Justice has produced data, which shows the number of African Americans arrested for marijuana possession and distribution was five times greater than the arrest rates for Caucasians for the same crime over the past decade. The statistics are published based on FBI and U.S. Census Bureau data sources.

Butler says a local task force examined that topic and concluded no obvious or overt bias in the arrest rates. Butler says there is no question that bias exists, but says it’s largely a result of unadjusted census data.

“We don’t have a clear idea who makes up our community, who lives here permanently, whether it’s a student, a Fort Riley soldier or someone from the community,” he said.

Butler says RCPD is working to improve that through a fair and impartial policing group, engaging members of the coalition and others in the community.

“We talk about training, we talk about strategies and approaches we can take to ensure that the officers are reacting appropriately to visual cues and behaviors of people, leaving race and gender all of that out of it, what are they seeing and how are they reacting to it,” he said.

Butler, a former public information officer at one of his previous police jobs prior to his role as director in Riley County, is also highly critical of the national news media for what he says is intentionally misleading the public in certain cases.

Butler spoke specifically regarding the Tuesday fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’khia Bryant by Columbus Police Officer Nicholas Reardon. The incident occurred around the same time the Chauvin verdict was being read in Minnesota Tuesday afternoon.

Butler says he listened to the 911 call which stated that Bryant was holding a knife and allegedly attacking two other women when she was shot to death.

“In this case, I have seen news report after news report, and I’m paraphrasing, where they mentioned that a 16 year old child, holding a knife, was shot by a police officer. All of those things I said a minute ago, were left out,” he said.

Butler says national news outlets intentionally misled the public, even amid the Columbus Police Department releasing body cam footage of the incident.

“I don’t know why professional reporters are doing that at the national level. It does not help what we’re trying to accomplish in this country. I don’t want to say for one second that there aren’t problems with policing in some places and in some communities, but that type of reporting makes it worse,” he said.

Butler says anyone from the public can read RCPD’s latest annual report on uses of force, including data and analysis, that he says is reviewed for training purposes to improve reactions and avoid hurting people when there are less lethal options that are more effective. That is available in the Riley County Law Board’s April 19 meeting packet (pages 45-56).

Butler spoke Friday during a monthly appearance on KMAN’s In Focus. The full show is available on demand at

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