Sad news: Benicia’s City Manager, Lorie Tinfow, has resigned as of today, September 8, 2020. Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson will serve as Acting City Manager. Information is sparse – we have only the following press release:
CITY OF BENICIA
Benicia City Hall
250 East L Street
Benicia, California 94510
Benicia, CA (September 8, 2020) — The City of Benicia announced this morning that City Manager Lorie Tinfow has tendered her resignation to the City. The City Council is grateful for Ms. Tinfow’s service to the City of Benicia and wishes her well in her future endeavors.
Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, on behalf of the city council, expressed gratitude for Ms. Tinfow’s service, stating, “Lorie’s three plus years with the City has positioned Benicia well by attracting and developing quality staff, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our citizens both safe and primed for a strong recovery.”
Ms. Tinfow will be especially remembered by the community for starting the City of Benicia This Week weekly newsletter. The City’s Chief of Police, Erik Upson, will be serving as the Acting City Manager until the City Council takes further action.
Carquinez Village invited Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson to speak to the community via Zoom last Monday. I’m using today’s column to report on that meeting.
Chief Upson began with a national perspective, saying that national standards for policing on testing, hiring, ongoing training, etc. don’t exist. Contrary to other occupations, a podiatrist, for example, for which national standards exist, the consumer can rely on a podiatrist anywhere in the nation having similar training.
The chief’s philosophy is that “culture is most important.” Even if a police agency has good guidelines written down, bad things can happen, depending on the culture. Egregious events such as happened in Minneapolis can occur if the culture doesn’t reflect the written policy. More about this later.
Chief Upson said his philosophy is “We’re neighbors. We care about the whole community.” He went on to say that he tries to follow a policy of being a great human being. Caring about other people. When he interviews a candidate to work in his department, he goes out to coffee with them, to try to get a sense of the person. He talked about the “golden shovel” award, which is about “recognizing and rewarding officers for exemplifying our culture, going out of their way to do something that benefits the community though it might not fit in the more accepted perception of what policing is about. Caring about people as people and manifesting a true sense of caring about humanity.” Upson understands the need to respect everyone and learn to recognize our own implicit bias, something we all have, but aren’t always aware of.
Chief Upson was asked if blacks, even blacks who live in Benicia, are stopped more frequently than whites. Of course, he’s aware of racial profiling, but he wouldn’t want that to happen here. He’s been Benicia’s Police Chief for five years, so he has hired most of the police force. He tries to weed out people who don’t fit with his philosophy.
In New York, a young white woman called the police on a black man who was bird watching, saying he had threatened her. Since the incident was recorded, it was easy to see that wasn’t the case. He’d asked her to put her dog on leash. Upson has a policy that, if someone calls and complains about another person, but doesn’t indicate that the other person has committed or is committing a crime, the police may not follow up on the call.
He was asked about the possibility of having town hall meetings here, as some other communities have, to discuss racial inequities; he thought that a good idea. Schools also came up in a question to the chief. He said that two officers work with the schools, endeavoring to have good relationships with the children and the staff.
One person asked the chief about the release of 8,000 prisoners in California due to outbreaks of the Corona Virus in prisons. Upson said they get a list of anyone being released who has ties to Solano County. They would check out the situation if appropriate. He pointed out that many people being released are older people over 65, who were scheduled to be released in 90-120 days.
Another person asked about handling of homeless people. Approximately 40 people are identified as homeless in Benicia. Working with the county, Benicia police try to help by getting these folks into shelters, and offering other mitigations, as appropriate.
Upson has been a police officer for 30 years and has never shot anyone, though he certainly recognizes the need for officers to carry guns, reminding us there are 250-300 million guns in the country and a good number of people quite willing to use them.
He was also asked about crime during these times of COVID-19. He said there is an increase in property crime—stealing of cars and damaging property, not breaking into homes, as most people are at home now. “There is also an uptick in domestic violence,” according to the chief.
He was also asked what “taking the knee” means to him. He said it’s a “demonstration of caring.” Some people, when hearing the slogan “black lives matter” ask “don’t all lives matter?” Upson remarked that “when a house is on fire” you turn your attention to that. It doesn’t mean that other houses (or lives) are any less valued.
I mentioned earlier about Chief Upson’s approach that “culture trumps everything.” So, I asked the chief how the culture can be changed. He answered that it takes time, modeling good behavior, and leadership.
He urged us to ask if we have needs or questions, and I think that applies to the entire community. Chief Upson was approachable, direct, and honest about the situations the department faces and his philosophy about the best ways to handle whatever comes up. I was pleased to spend the hour in conversation with him. I should also point out, that on the city’s website there’s much more information about the police.
Culture: Culture trumps everything, including policy and training. What we have done here is first and foremost focused on creating a culture that is human-focused; an organization that recognizes that we must care about people first, allow our officers the room to care about people and help them in their time of need. We recognize that nearly everyone, including those who are committing criminal acts, are people too and most are in that position for many reasons, not generally because they are bad people. Nearly everyone has the ability for redemption, and we want them to become active positive members of our community. We understand part of healing includes revisiting the issue of use of force. I’m proud to share with you two important pieces that have been part of our training and culture. First, we will continue to do everything we reasonably can to avoid force where possible, and secondly only to use the minimal amount of force we must for the sole purpose of protecting the public and ourselves. We must also ensure that every member of our community feels we are there for them, not just selective members of our community.
Diversity: We have focused on diversity in our hiring. We are proud to say we are MORE diverse than the community we serve in nearly every racial category and making great strides in gender diversity. We understand the need to continue to focus on this. We believe diversity is incredibly important for two reasons. First, it allows everyone in the community to see that the police force is inclusive, representative and reflective of them. Second, and perhaps most importantly, surrounding yourself with diversity is one of the most important ways you can prevent bias and prejudice in yourself.
Bias-Free Policing: Several years ago we rolled out training based on Dr. Lorie Fridell’s book Producing Bias-Free Policing – A Science Base Approach. We supplied the book to our Admin team first and worked through the book. We then provided the book to all supervisors and assigned the reading as homework. We then had a series of facilitated discussions at staff meetings to go over the book. Supervisors were then directed to take that training back to line staff.
Community Court: We were the first agency in Solano County to implement Community Court in partnership with the District Attorney’s Office. This program diverts low-level offenders to a panel of community members who receive special training. The panel can assign the person a series of different assignments, tasks, commitments as part of a restorative justice model to make the victim and community whole. The person then has the record of that arrest expunged off their record.
Carotid Restraint: We have eliminated the carotid control hold, and will be working on updating our policy to reflect it.
De-escalation Training: We brought in de-escalation training several years ago, bringing one of the region’s foremost experts to train our staff as well as train a cadre of staff to become de-escalation trainers. We now weave in de-escalation into our use-of-force trainings.
What we are doing
Bias-Based Calls for Service: We have begun implementation of a policy that ALL ‘suspicious person’ or ‘suspicious vehicle’ calls with no clearly articulated criminal activity be differed to a supervisor to attempt to weed out any bias-based complaints and cancel police response when appropriate. The initial direction has been given to staff and we are beginning to draft formal policy language. This policy will include dispatchers as part of this process as well. Any patterns of behavior that appears to be bias-based reporting will be forwarded to Administration so attempts can be made to end that behavior through the use of intervention utilizing restorative justice principles.
Investigation of Deadly Force Incidents: The Benicia Police Department’s does NOT investigate our own deadly force situations, often thought of as Officer Involved Shootings.
Body Worn Cameras: On June 16th, 2020, the City Council has approved our request the funds to purchase a Body Worn Camera/Taser/Evidence Management system. This will provide body worn cameras to all our officers and community service officers for enhanced transparency. An additional part of this system will activate all body worn cameras in the vicinity of the officer who draws either their Taser or their pistol.
De-escalation Training: We will continue our de-escalation training and will add a component of de-escalation training with every training we do with our protective equipment, such as firearms training.
Bias-Free Policing: We will push out more formal bias-free policing training to line staff, including providing each of them Dr. Fridell’s book and conducting training based on that book.
Racial Profiling Stop Data Reporting: Assembly Bill 953 created the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board (RIPA) and made Stop Data Collection the law in California. Every police department must begin providing clearly delineated Stop Data to the state within a certain time frame based on size. The Benicia Police Department is required to begin reporting in April of 2023. However, we are committing to taking immediate action to begin the process of collecting information so that we can report by the end of 2021. We will begin compiling the data by January 1, 2021.
RIPA reporting requirements chart below:
Number of Officers
Community Court: We will work with the District Attorney to expand Community Court. We have largely been unable to get many people diverted there due to the limited types of cases and background limitations. We will work to expand Community Court to include nearly all misdemeanors except for gun, domestic violence, and other of the most serious crimes in this category. This proven restorative justice modeled approach could be replicated wider as and a critical part of fixing the justice system beyond local policing.
Benicia Unified School District Partnership: We enjoy an amazing partnership with the School District. Our School Resource Officers are an enhancement to the school community, not just in terms of safety but in terms of love and kindness and just all-around helping our children. We have a strong diversion program and limit, whenever we can, contact with the formal criminal justice system. Those cases are reserved for incidents involving violence or threats of violence or weapons violations. That said, we think we can further enhance this partnership. Currently the Police Department pays for one School Resource Officer and the District pays for the other. After talks with the Superintendent, we have agreed that we will reduce the amount the District pays by $50,000 and that money will be used in District programs directed at reducing bias and prejudice in our schools and community.
Use of Force Reporting: Any use of force incidents will be reported on our website.
We are saddened and angered by the killing of George Floyd and we stand with everyone in our community and across the nation against systemic racism. Enough is enough. Our communities are demanding change that is deserved and past due. It’s time for us to listen and take action to support our black, indigenous and people of color communities. We need to be clear in our expectations of our local, State and national leaders. And we won’t stop there. We must examine our actions and policies that impact all people of color and make meaningful changes.
We encourage and support the peaceful protests taking place in our City and are proud of our youth’s leadership in reaching out to so many people from all walks of life to come together with such heart and passion. Let this be the turning point our society must make so that everyone in our community can lead a life of dignity and promise.
Let us work together to make real progress, to learn from the experiences of others, to listen with empathy to new voices—voices unheard for too long—and to examine our own views and protest peacefully for this change. We know the answer is not violence. Let us come out of this time stronger and better.
The death of George Floyd is appalling and unacceptable, and we condemn the actions of those four police officers in Minneapolis. Chief of Police Erik Upson said, “I’m very proud of the culture we have built in this department and the humanistic approach we take that focuses on the community. I know there is more we can do, and I look forward to making changes that will strengthen our relationship with those we serve.”
We are confident in Chief Upson’s leadership and the Benicia Police Department’s training and practice of de-escalation, and community policing as well as his sincere desire to listen to the community and continue to advance the Department towards its vision.
We are committed, as leaders in Benicia, to better outcomes for our black community here and across our country. We honor peaceful protest and recognize the need for immediate and lasting social change. We hear you, we see you, we stand with you. By working together, Benicia will be a community where everyone is valued and respected.