Tag Archives: Benicia Police Department

Vacaville opinion on local police reform – good questions for all Solano cities

[BenIndy editor: “Defunding” police can mean different things to different people.  I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Hunt’s opening statement here, but he goes on to raise important questions that should be addressed here in Benicia.  – R.S.]

Solano Voices: Time to discuss police priorities

, by Curtis Hunt, July 5, 2020

But, we can and should have serious conversations about police reform, militarization and training of officers and the influence public safety unions have on local elections and city councils. We can and should have a discussion about the role of police in combating social issues.

First, we need to challenge the concept that “hiring more police will reduce crime.” Comprehensive crime reduction has three components: prevention, intervention and suppression. 

Second, we can and should have a discussion on the influence of public safety unions on local councils. The public safety unions are very powerful locally and in Sacramento. They offer local candidates campaign support both financially and more importantly with “boots on the ground.” I ran two successful campaigns, one with their support and one without. The one with their support was more enjoyable.

Third, we can and should have a conversation on skyrocketing costs. Some city budgets contribute up to 80% of their total revenue to police and fire departments. The Sacramento police chief recently commented, “We are down 100 cops.“ The follow up question then becomes, “Why is your budget two times higher than it was five years ago?”

Pension benefits, retired health care and incentive pays are exceeding the revenue-generation capacities of local governments. We are paying more and getting less. This is not sustainable.

Increased pension, health care and salaries prevent cities from hiring more personnel. It is time to ask some serious questions. We  need to have an open, respectful conversation.

Fourth, we should have a conversation about the local sales taxes. Promises made, promises broken. Measure M and Measure P pay salary and benefits for police and fire. When Measure M was passed, the first expense was to hire 11 more police officers at end of budget hearings. At this point cities really have no choice. Cites need to use the local sales tax revenue to fund the personnel. Vacaville will defer capital projects, but the results will be the same as these are all ongoing cost.

We can and should have a conversation about increasing the funding for the prevention and intervention aspect of public safety. We should consider a reduction of salary and benefits, and instead support prevention programs. We should consider supporting PAL, The Leaven, The Boys and Girls Club and other evidence-based after-school programs. We need to increase the Parks and Recreation budget to have affordable after-school programs for working parents. We should target gang prevention efforts, mentoring programs. We should look at job development job — training programs operated in challenging neighborhoods. Cities might explore incentives for local businesses to accept training positions.  

I know the police officers are empathetic and compassionate in their effort to address homelessness. But they are not selected, trained or educated in that area. We should have a multidisciplinary team with only one officer and the remaining positions filled with social workers, VA specialists, mental health workers and housing specialists. We should explore the increased use of family support workers for domestic violence. We should use community service officers for more routine calls.

I know this is not an easy conversation. When you bring this up, you get, “You are either with us, or you are  against us” as a response. Mere mention of any discussion would result in “Man, you don’t like cops.” That approach to the issue didn’t work. We need to heal and the only way to do that is start with an open and honest dialogue.

Don’t defund! Talk and make a plan for a more inclusive, comprehensive approach with prevention and intervention strategies.

Curtis Hunt worked for 15 years as a probation officer and provided counseling for delinquent offenders. He finished his career at Solano County managing a countywide prevention program. He severed six years on the Community Services Commission and 12 years on the Vacaville City Council.

Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson: What we have done and what we are doing…

A few steps the Benicia Police Department is taking for a better future

From Facebook: Benicia Police Department, June 17, 2020

Please watch this short video from Chief Erik Upson regarding a few steps the Police Department is taking for a better future.


More from City of Benicia website:
What we have done and what we are doing…

What we have done

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

Collect
By
Report
By
From To
1,000 1,000+ 1-Jul-2018 1-Apr-2019
667 999 1-Jan-2019 1-Apr-2020
334 666 1-Jan-2021 1-Apr-2022
1 333 1-Jan-2022 1-Apr-2023

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.

CORRECTION – Benicia Youth organizing a second peaceful protest for racial justice – Saturday June 13, 11AM

By Roger Straw, June 9, 2020 and UPDATED June 11, 2020 3:50pm

Benicia youth are organizing a second protest rally and march in remembrance and honor of all victims of police brutality, to be held at (CORRECTION…) GATHER AT 9TH STREET PARK on Saturday, June 13 at 11am.

The Facebook event gives details:

“Hi all – There’s been a lot of confusion around the protest for Saturday so I wanted to clear it all up for everyone. I’m not the original organizer for it but I offered my help in letting everyone know about it and gathering supplies. The organizer wasn’t aware that there was a separate protest for Sunday. The two organizers have been in contact and decided to combine the two. So, the new plan is everyone meets at 9th street park, we march up to the gazebo on first street, we do speeches and allow people from the crowd to speak, and then we march back down to the park. I’ve updated the flyer and I’m going to put the new one in the comments down below. There will be drinks and snacks provided. Please remember to wear a mask and stay 6 ft apart. Please please share this with everyone so no one is confused. There will be someone at the gazebo to direct people to go to the 9th street park if they go there first. This has been really complicated to put together and I appreciate everyone who has been understanding about it. Also want to give a special shout out to everyone who has donated food, drinks, supplies, etc. Your kindness does not go unnoticed. Please tell anyone you know that is planning to go to meet at 9TH STREET PARK AT 11AM ON SATURDAY. See you all there.❤️

EARLIER INFO POSTED ON JUNE 9

I tracked down one of the organizers, Journey Eske, who responded to my interview questions with written answers:

By Journey Eske…

My main reason for wanting to help organize this event was not only because of George Floyd, but also to bring awareness of an issue black and brown men and women face on a daily basis. Police brutality and racism are things people of color have to endure simply because of the color of their skin. They fear for their lives when going to the store, taking a walk in their own neighborhood, or holding their cell phone in their hand. It is important that we realize police officers are not the entire issue but more so a small part of a much bigger problem, the justice system as a whole.

We’ve been reaching out and spreading the word about the event on social media.  I made an event page on facebook, and over 100 people have responded saying they’re going. I’m hoping for at least 200, but the more the better. Racism is taught and is a learned behavior, so the more people who come, listen, and are willing to make a change, the better it will be for the human race as a whole.

There will be speakers at the event. We will also have drinks and dry snacks for everyone who attends the protest. After speeches, there will be crowd engagement, giving people from the audience a chance to come up and say a few words. After that, we will march down first street in honor of George Floyd and countless other people of color who have fallen victim to police brutality and racism.

We are strongly asking protesters to maintain 6 ft of distance between themselves and everyone else, as well as wear a mask, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  I’m not sure if we’re marching to the police station, but I hope so as a lot of the change needs to happen there.

You asked about me: I graduated from BHS in 2017 and I am currently a student at DVC majoring in nursing. I heard about this event through a friend on snapchat. The original organizer, Lafayle Fuller, told me I could do a speech and asked me to help put this event together. I immediately said I would, and started gathering supplies and reaching out to as many people as I could to let them know about the protest. Putting an event like this together is definitely a group effort.

We checked in with Benicia Police and they were made aware of this event. Steve Young, a member of the Benicia City Council, reached out to me and said he would like to say a few words during the protest, as he is very supportive of it. He also is going to try to arrange for a voter registration table so people at the protest can register to vote.


CORRECTION: The organizers of this march are not affiliated with Benicia Youth Against Brutality.

Great info about Benicia Police Dept policies – and a bunch of questions

By Roger Straw, June 10, 2020

City of Benicia publishes new “Use of Force Policy Review” web page, makes Policy Manual available to public – and pledges to remove choke hold from police policy

I almost always read the City Manager’s weekly newsletter.  But you know how email inboxes can get out of control…

So I missed a really important City of Benicia newsletter this Monday.  City Manager Lorie Tinfow shared information there about Benicia’s response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent nationwide protests and calls for police reform.  Here is her June 8 message for Benicians concerned about police violence and racial justice.  Read on, but don’t miss a number of my own concerns and questions that follow below.

City Manager Newsletter, June 8, 2020

“The past two weeks have been extremely tumultuous. The killing of George Floyd was the tipping point for many in our country and those participating in the protests and civil unrest that have followed have called for many necessary changes. And they are beginning to happen.

Friday night, Benicia Police Department (BPD) was notified that Governor Newsom ordered the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) to remove the Carotid Control hold from training certification. The change was immediately communicated to our Police Officers. This change seemed to follow an effort called 8cantwait.

Late last week we began to receive emails asking that we enact changes aligned with 8cantwait. Police Chief Upson evaluated the requested changes and directed his staff to create a webpage that offers information designed to increase transparency. The page includes a comparison of what BPD currently does with what 8cantwait wants as well as a table that shows total calls for service with instances of use of force for the past 3 years. Click here to visit the new webpage.

On the new page is also a link to the complete use of force policy that is posted online as required by law. For those interested in reading more, click here to view the policy.

During last week’s protest, the Benicia Police Officers who assisted, performed their duties exceptionally well. They managed traffic and helped keep the space safe for the participants. The officers’ response when at the police station in particular garnered my confidence and my respect. Click here to view the video in case you missed it. Clearly the protesters’ passions ran high but they too performed well, helping bring attention to the much needed changes across the country.

We are all navigating these uncharted waters to the best of our abilities. I appreciate the community, City staff and the City Council for maintaining the connections that keep Benicia strong. Benicia is better together!”

TRANSPARENCY WELCOME

These new developments and the transparency embraced by our City Manager and Police Chief are to be applauded.  I believe that the Police Policy Manual has never before been disclosed to the public, and the Use of Force webpage is an excellent way to engage the public in further conversations.  These moves are significant and show personal and professional judgement in a time of profound unrest and hunger for reform.

BREAKING NEWS: NO MORE POLICE CHOKE HOLDS IN BENICIA

The City’s new “Use of Force Policy Review” web page clarifies current BPD policy and announces that “We will be removing carotid control hold from our policy.”

That policy (§300.3.4, Carotid Control Hold, pp. 48-49) takes up two pages in the current BPD Policy Manual Exactly when and how the manual will be revised and adopted is not clear to me as of now.

CONTINUING QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS FOR BENICIA POLICE

There is more to be done.  City staff, electeds and community members should continue to ask questions and raise concerns.

For instance:

Use of Force Policy Review page on the City website
  1. The “Use of Force Policy Review” page on the City website is a good start. The chart compares 8cantwait.org policy recommendations with BPD policy.  It’s important to note at top that we will be “removing carotid control hold from our policy” (§300.3.4, pp. 48-49).  But other than that, in most cases the BPD column qualifies each policy with “when reasonably necessary,” “where feasible,” etc., which seems a bit weak…  Maybe that’s the best we can hope for?
  2. The final item on that page is requiring comprehensive reporting. The BPD policy is to document all use of force promptly, but it does not address the 8cantwait recommendation to report any time an officer threatens to use force.  Should we consider adding that to our BPD policy?
  3. The 2017-2020 statistics provided on the page are interesting, but pretty thin on facts, context, details.  It would be especially of interest to know about the racial characteristics of suspects and officers involved in these incidents.  Can the BPD make more information available?
  4. It is GREAT that no major injuries have been sustained by suspects or officers in use of force incidents over the past 3 years. But it is noteworthy that tasers have been used in 6 of the last 7 incidents (2019-2020), but prior to that only once in 11 incidents (2017-2018).  Why has the use of tasers increased?  And what are the “minor injuries” that are reported with nearly every use of tasers?
  5. It is GREAT that the public now has access to the BPD’s Policy Manual.  But gosh, it’s 756 pages long!
    • I would assume new officers are required to read the whole thing.  And take a test?
    • How often are officers required to review the document and then take a refresher test?
    • I understand that the BPD is to be commended for its strong emphasis on frequent training exercises.  Have our officers had a recent in-service training on Use of Force policies?  This might be welcome in the current time of unrest and reform.
Other concerns and questions
  1. The BPD Policy Manual has 7 references to “community policing.” It might be well to highlight and expand upon this official Department philosophy in a news conference and/or press release, as well as in an internal BPD memo or workshop.
  2. The BPD Manual lays out crowd control measures and has extensive policies governing discipline. Will the BPD review these policies carefully in light of recent times?  One suggestion: Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo announced today (June 10) that the MPD will begin tracking disciplinary data as compiled by Benchmark Analytics, and that the Department will rely on this data rather than the authority of a supervisory officer when making decisions related to hiring and firing.  Perhaps the BPD hiring and disciplinary policies could be reviewed in light of this?
  3. Questions about race and gender: How many BPD officers are there, and how many are Black, how many Hispanic, how many Asian, how many White, etc.? How many male and female officers?  The BPD Policy Manual is clear in opposing all forms of discrimination (§328.2, p. 156).  But is the Department under any obligation or philosophical intent to achieve racial and gender balance?  Does the BPD have any official goal statement on recruiting women and minority officers?