The Prince William County Police Department is on “high alert” today as the nation awaits a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer on trial for second-degree unintentional murder and other charges in connection with George Floyd’s death last May.
But Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham says the department is “hoping for the best while preparing for the worst” in terms of local demonstrations and possible unrest following the jury’s verdict, which is expected to be announced sometime today.
“This is a very large police department. We cover a lot of area,” Newsham said following a press conference Tuesday morning. “So we are on high alert. I will be following whatever's going on in Minnesota very, very closely.”
“High alert” means that all Prince William County police officers have been told they may be called back on duty if additional resources are needed. Officers who work civil disobedience have received updated training, and the police department is communicating with other departments in the region to ensure they are able to help each other if needed, he said.
In general, Newsham said, the police department’s message to Prince William County residents is to keep demonstrations peaceful if they feel the need to express their First Amendment rights, whatever the jury decides.
“You know, this is a very unsettling time for our country,” Newsham said. “There's a lot of emotion around this case. … if we want to demonstrate [we ask] that [people] do it peacefully. It’s as simple as that.
“Damaging property, hurting people, assaulting police officers -- that's not going to bring George Floyd back and that's not going to change what's going on in our country,” he added.
Newsham said “cooler heads always prevail.” He also suggested that demonstrators encourage each other to keep things safe.
“Sometimes you'll have a small group of agitators within a large crowd, and what I have found, is the best way to deal with that is if the people in the crowd self-police,” Newsham said. “So if you're out there … and you want to exercise your First Amendment … and if you see other people doing things that are unlawful, ask them, ‘What the heck are you doing?’”
Newsham noted that most who demonstrated after Floyd’s death last summer in Prince William County and in Washington, D.C. acted lawfully while making their voices heard. Newsham led Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department until retiring and coming to Prince William County in February.
“By and large, the large majority of folks that came [to protest] were very, very peaceful,” he said. “That was my experience in Washington, D.C.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org