Franklin County DA Matt Fogal, on Black Lives Matter and New Rules on Policing

Matt Fogal has had a great deal to say about local and national politics over the past year.

Written by Letrell Deshan Crittenden

But truth be told, the incumbent District Attorney of Franklin County would much rather take the lessons learned from the Black Lives Matter movement, and use them to improve how law enforcement and his office serves local community members.

And if that ultimately costs him a chance to hold onto the office, he’s perfectly fine with that. 

“No,” Fogal said in an interview when asked if he regretted his support of BLM. “One million percent no.”

Matt Fogal

No local politician has received more national attention – other than Sen. Doug Mastriano – than Fogal.

His decision to publicly support the Black Lives Matter movement last year resulted in attention from regional and national media, including the New York Times.

Fogal, like Mastriano, is also a veteran.  The 1990 graduate of Cumberland Valley Christian Academy served in the National Guard, and spent time in Afghanistan.

But that is arguably where the comparison between the two men ends. 

While Mastriano enjoyed great popularity locally, Fogal’s decision to support Black Lives Matter led to a censure from the local GOP. This, combined with his growing displeasure with the direction of the party nationally, led him to leave the party in November of last year.

Yet despite the recent publicity, Fogal also doesn’t like the spotlight – to quote Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat” – “not one little bit.”

“From my perspective, from where I sit in my relationship and my knowledge of law enforcement here, I do believe (the new policies will) be embraced,” he said.

During his first 11 years in office – one he was initially appointed to in 2009, Fogal said he “flew under the radar,” dedicated his time to what was “six-inches in front of (his) face.”  referring to the daily rigors of his position. 

In fact, the idea of holding a political office is why he initially had reservations about taking the appointment to the position. 

“I knew it was an elected position. And that is not me, “Fogal said.  “I didn’t really see myself sort of fitting in naturally into a role like that, and sort of what it required and what you know, sort of schmoozing or whatever.”

Indeed, politics wasn’t the primary consideration when Fogal opted to step out and support BLM.  The brutal video of Floyd’s killing – combined with the COVID crisis – gave Fogal pause to reflect on the state race relations in America.  Moved, he felt he had an obligation to take a stand on the matter – even if it cost him politically with the local GOP. 

“I don’t like attention, and I wasn’t stupid enough to think it wouldn’t have any, but I just couldn’t not say something. I was compelled. And I have very clear eyes on what that could mean, you know, politically or personally.”

Black Lives Matter and New Rules on Policing

Fogal’s support of the movement wasn’t just symbolic.

Last December, Fogal, announced a series of changes specifically geared toward reducing the likelihood of negative interactions between law enforcement and local citizens within an update to the Franklin County Bureau of Detectives procedures manual.

Among the highlights were changes geared toward diversity and training and the use of force against citizens. 

“I don’t like attention, and I wasn’t stupid enough to think it wouldn’t have any, but I just couldn’t not say something. I was compelled. And I have very clear eyes on what that could mean, you know, politically or personally.”

As of December, training for implicit bias and de-escalation was mandatory, and would be routinely held for local law enforcement, according to a press release.  In fact, by the beginning of this year, two such trainings had already been held.  .

Emotional wellness and safety of FCBD personnel, according to the release, will also be prioritized under the new procedural book. 

Efforts geared toward improving wellness will include targeted counseling sessions with the Greencastle Family Practice. Additionally, according to the release, FCBD staff will “as each situation dictates,” team up with members of the county’s Crisis Intervention Team.

Additionally, the new rules have changed how FCBD personnel are to use force. 

FCBD personnel are now banned from using any choke holds or neck holds, and must not discharge firearms from vehicles.

“Why wouldn’t we say no chokehold?” Fogal said in an interview. 

The new guidelines also created a de-escalation policy that mandates personnel to use deadly force as a last resort.  Coupled with this, FCBD personnel, according to the release, will be issued less lethal alternatives, including Tasers and pepper spray. 

Finally, the new guideline stipulations that any use of force will be investigated by “multiple outside, neutral agencies.

Guidelines, however, do not necessarily lead to change, especially if rank-and-file members of the FCBD do not agree with them.

Fogal said, however, that while there may be some resistance, the new directives will ultimately have an impact.

“From my perspective, from where I sit in my relationship and my knowledge of law enforcement here, I do believe they’ll be embraced,” he said.

 

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