The Hamburg City Council voted last week to change the police department’s use-of-force policy to prohibit the use of chokeholds.

“We are going to strictly ban chokeholds unless it is a deadly force-use situation,” Hamburg Police Chief Johnny Oliver said.

The use of chokeholds in restraining suspects has been controversial in recent years, especially since cases in some jurisdictions ended in the suspect’s deaths.

While the Hamburg Police Department does not have a history of incidents involving chokeholds, Oliver said adopting the language is required for the police department to be in compliance with federal guidelines.

City Attorney Paul Keith said the language change to the policy was using wording that had previously been approved by the Arkansas Association of Police Chiefs.

The addendum to the use-of-force policy that the council adopted last Monday was only one sentence long: “The use of chokeholds or any other hold that restricts the breathing of a person is strictly prohibited except when deadly force is allowed by law.”

The change was adopted unanimously, with Councilwoman Derenda Stanley making the motion to make the change and Councilwoman Deanne Murphy seconding it.

Also during the meeting, ProMed Ambulance Chief Executive Officer Ken Kelley gave the council the service’s annual report.

ProMed’s average response time from getting the call to departing is one minute, nine seconds and the service’s average time to arrival at the emergency scene is six minutes, 47 seconds, Kelley said.

Likewise, the average amount of time at the scene for medical emergencies is 13 minutes, 27 seconds, and for trauma situations it is 12 minutes, 19 seconds.

ProMed has an average of 3.3 responses a day that result in 2.5 daily transports, Kelley said.

He also told the council that the company is working with the state for the certifications needed to treat patients in place for the calls that do not result in transports so that they can also be reimbursed for those runs.

Approximately 55 percent of transport patients remain in Ashley County, 10.66 percent go to Chicot Memorial, 15.77 percent go to Drew Memorial and the remainder is out-of-town transports.

Kelley said he knows some people are worried about being transported by ambulance during a time of pandemic, but ProMed received funds through the CARES Act that allowed the company to purchase decontamination equipment that is used between every transport.

“That ambulance is decontaminated after every patient contact,” he said.

In other news council voted to ratify two financial decisions and adopted an ordinance regarding sewer rates.

The votes included ratifying a contract with Christy Martin for animal control services for the city. The contract is for $500 a month to pick up and take care of the animals.

Council also voted to ratify its annual $48,000 contract with Ashley County for dispatching services through the Ashley County Sheriff’s Department.

A discussion regarding changing sewer rates has been going on for several months, and the council had advertised and hosted public hearings about the matter previously. Last week members approved the changes via ordinance.

Council also chose to honor the efforts of outgoing elected officials with Mayor Dane Weindorf presenting State Sen. Eddie Cheatham and State Rep. LeAnne Burch with keys to the city in thanks for their service to Hamburg while in the legislature.

He also presented outgoing Councilwoman Sue Nolan with a key to the city and American, Arkansas and Hamburg flags in gratitude for her service.

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