Grand Jury: The No. 1 recommendation is for county law enforcement agencies to adopt a more frequent schedule of diversity and bias trainingVallejo Times-Herald, by Richard Bammer, July 9, 2021
The 2020-21 Solano County civil grand jury found that local law enforcement agencies comply with legal requirements when providing diversity and bias training, but jurors also noted that such training is only required every five years – and that needs to change, jurors said.
In a nine-page document issued June 30, titled “Does Bias Infiltrate Solano County Law Enforcement?” the grand jury pointed out that local police and Sheriff’s Office leaders agreed there is “too much time between training sessions” and its primary recommendation is for county law enforcement agencies adopt a more frequent schedule of diversity and bias training “over and above the current five-year requirement.”
In their one-paragraph summary, jurors found that police officers and deputies followed the guidelines defined by law, established through the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST.
But after jury members interviewed officers and police chiefs in six major cities and Sheriff’s personnel – and reviewed each agency’s policies – they found that operating “in accord with the POST guidelines is not enough,” according to the report.
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Local policing agencies “must go further to ensure elimination of bias as well as safety and equity for the citizens of Solano County,” they concluded.
In a second finding, jurors cited a lack of “adequate funding” hinders the various agencies’ ability to provide additional and more frequent training, recommending that law enforcement leaders seek more dollars for diversity and bias training. At the same time, the grand jury also recommended that the county’s police departments and the Sheriff’s Office collaborate in providing such training.
A third finding indicated that the grand jury believes more “underrepresented people,” that is, ethnic minorities, need to be in decision-making roles, recommending that law enforcement agencies “promote more underrepresented people to decision making positions.”
In a lengthy fourth finding, the grand jury cited state Penal Code section 13651, which, in short, states that police and sheriff’s offices that review job descriptions used to recruit peace officers “shall make changes that emphasize community-based policing, familiarization between law enforcement and community residents, and collaborative problem solving, while de-emphasizing the paramilitary aspects of the job.” Jury members also discovered that “all administrators mentioned the general population’s lack of trust of law enforcement officers.”
Grand jurors, thus, recommended that training de-emphasize a paramilitary approach to policing and collaborate with community organizations to problem-solve.
“Employee turnover” is a problem “for some” law enforcement agencies, they found in a fifth finding, recommending specifically that Suisun City increase the length of its employment contract to five years and find ways to achieve pay equity in the county to limit turnover in smaller communities.
In the sixth and final finding, the grand jury noted reports from the FBI that extremist groups are “infiltrating” law enforcement agencies.
“While local law enforcement agencies investigate applicants as part of the vetting process, they rely on employee and citizen complaints to identify current staff social media postings for extremist ideology,” according to the report’s wording.
Jurors made three recommendations: 1) that county law enforcement agencies monitor social media postings by current staff for extremist content; 2) that law enforcement leaders “keep up with the technology that their employees are using”; and 3) that law enforcement leaders “research and implement technology” which assists in monitoring social media without violating First Amendment rights under the Constitution.
The grand jury’s report, one of several recently issued, comes as the Black Lives Matter movement has gained prominence in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted last month for Floyd’s May 25, 2020, murder.
Floyd was detained after trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store. During the arrest, Chauvin knelt on his neck for some nine minutes as Floyd, face down on street pavement, cried out that he could not breathe.
It was an example, whether or not bias was involved, of how routine encounters can escalate or turn deadly, as they did with the police killings of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., both in 2014, among many others.
Police training and programs that focus on implicit bias have emerged as a key component of police reform efforts nationwide in an effort to engender trust in policing.
Besides interviewing officers, deputies law enforcement agency leaders, grand jury members relied on numerous reports, including “Can Cops Unlearn Their Unconscious Biases?” a 2017 Atlantic article; a report by the Brookings Institution about how the U.S. is diversifying even faster than predicted; and a report from openvallejo.org, an online newsroom, reporting that Solano County Sheriff’s deputies and a Vacaville City Council member potentially promoted anti-government militia, including the posting of Three Percenter imagery on their public social media pages.
Additionally, they noted an April 18, 2021, segment of “60 Minutes” investigated the Oath Keepers, an identified extremist group, and their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. “A leader of the Oath Keepers in Arizona proudly proclaimed they have many members in police forces around their state,” jurors wrote in the report.
Research organizations such as the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Accountability and Fairness in Law Enforcement and the Plain View Project have uncovered hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials participating in racist, nativist, and sexist social media activity. “Departments often know about these officers’ activities, but those activities have only resulted in disciplinary action or termination if they trigger public concern,” according to the report.
In its “statement of facts” section of the report, jurors wrote: “The biggest problem in addressing possible biases is that unconscious biases are part of growing up in an atmosphere in which stereotypes are part of everyday life (the thinking we are exposed to as children influences how we interpret events and people around us).”
“Researchers have found that people can consciously embrace fairness and equality, but on tests measuring subconscious tendencies, they still lean on stereotypes in profiling people they don’t know,” jurors added.
“The results can be surprising for those that do not feel they have any biases,” the grand jury report indicated.
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