Tag Archives: Police reform

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

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.

Vallejo Police Dept bans carotid control hold, “focuses on assessment and reform”

Vallejo police chief bans officers from using carotid hold

Vallejo Times-Herald, by John Glidden, June 18, 2020 

Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams issued a special order banning his officers from using a controversial restraint as the department begins to flesh out its use of force and de-escalation police, the department announced Thursday.

Officers can no longer apply a carotid control hold, also known as a vascular neck constraint, while attempting to subdue aggressive or resistant individuals.

“This immediate ban of the carotid control hold is the right thing to do as our department focuses on assessment and reform,” said Williams in a statement released by the department on Thursday. “I also think it’s important for the Vallejo community to know that the carotid control hold is not a stranglehold or a chokehold; those types of holds were never authorized by VPD and do not reflect our values as a department.”

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan took to social media after the news release was issued to register his approval with the decision, saying if the hold isn’t “done correctly (it) could injure a person.”

“This restraint has no place in policing,” he said.

Vallejo’s ban comes two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom told the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to stop teaching the restraint as the hold blocks the flow of blood to the brain.

“We train techniques on strangleholds that put people’s lives at risk,” Newsom said. “That has no place any longer in 21st-century practices and policing.”

The hold requires an officer to place his/her arm on the sides of the person’s neck. As the officer begins to apply pressure, blood flow is blocked in the carotid arteries, causing the person to lose consciousness. Applied too long, the hold can cause serious injury or death.

Williams’ announcement follows the unveiling of a new proposed implementation plan based off a 70-page report by the OIR Group which analyzed the operations, culture and internal review of the department. The consultant made 45 recommendations which focus on three major areas: protecting the community, build trust and communication, and 21st century policing.

Retained last summer, OIR Group received $40,000 to review the department’s officer training, hiring, promotional processes, transparency, community engagement, resource assessment, and internal review of deadly force incidents.

While some California police unions promise change, others seek to undo reforms

San Francisco Chronicle, by Joe Garofoli, June 18, 2020
Demonstrators take a knee in an intersection, blocking traffic, and have a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during a protest organized by a group of young people to support Black Lives Matter on June 16, 2020 in Mill Valley, Calif.
Demonstrators take a knee in an intersection, blocking traffic, and have a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during a protest organized by a group of young people to support Black Lives Matter on June 16, 2020 in Mill Valley, Calif. Photo: Kate Munsch / Special to The Chronicle

While three of California’s biggest local police unions are taking out full-page newspaper ads promising to back reforms, other law enforcement organizations have pumped more than $2 million into a November ballot measure that would partially overturn laws that some call models for reforming the criminal justice system.

Police unions have contributed more than half the nearly $4 million raised for the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act campaign. The ballot initiative would roll back provisions in three measures that were aimed at reducing the state’s prison population, including Proposition 47, a voter-approved 2014 initiative that reclassified several felony crimes as misdemeanors.

The measure would change Prop. 47 by allowing prosecutors to charge a defendant with a felony for a third offense of stealing something worth more than $250. Prop. 47 raised the felony threshold for theft to $950 from $450.

“It is a measured approach to correct the problems we had with Prop. 47,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the state’s largest law enforcement labor organization, representing more than 77,000 public safety workers.

The ballot measure would also change parts of AB109, a 2011 law that transferred the responsibility for many nonviolent felons from state prisons to county jails. It would require the Board of Parole Hearings to consider an inmate’s whole criminal history when deciding on parole, not just the person’s most recent crime.

The initiative would also alter Proposition 57, a 2016 ballot measure that made it easier for nonviolent felons to win parole. It would expand the list of crimes that would not be eligible for early parole to include felony domestic violence and other violations.

“There were some good pieces in Prop. 47 and 57, but it was overly broad,” Marvel said.

Prop. 47 and the other two measures were part of the response to a 2011 federal court order that California cut the number of inmates in its overcrowded prisons by 34,000 within two years.

In this photo taken Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced talks with Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Four months after California voters approved Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for certain crimes, state lawmakers and law enforcement officials are lining up to repeal portions they say went too far. Gray and Melendez have introduced legislation that would restore the felony charge for stealing guns, if the measure is approved by the Legislature and by voters next year.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
In this photo taken Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced talks with Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Four months after California voters approved Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for certain crimes, state lawmakers and law enforcement officials are lining up to repeal portions they say went too far. Gray and Melendez have introduced legislation that would restore the felony charge for stealing guns, if the measure is approved by the Legislature and by voters next year. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Besides reducing the prison population, Prop. 47 and AB109 combined to lower the overall arrest rate per 100,000 residents by nearly 20%, according to a 2019 report by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Prop. 47 has also helped to steer money away from incarceration. The law required that the state spend the money it saved by not imprisoning more nonviolent felons on social and educational programs — an example of “defund the police” initiatives that many reformers are calling for now. This year, the state will redirect nearly $103 million in this way, according to the California Department of Finance.

Reform advocates say the November ballot measure would be difficult to square economically with a state budget that has plunged into the red with the coronavirus pandemic. A report to be released Thursday by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan organization in San Francisco that works to reduce reliance on incarceration, found that the changes proposed by the ballot measure could cost California “hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual costs” to take care of more people in prison and monitor more felons on probation.

In San Francisco, the measure could mean up to $7.5 million in additional annual costs, and Alameda County’s total could rise by $26 million, the study found.

“It’s a prison spending scam at a time when we are actively closing prisons and reallocating funds toward what’s needed in communities,” said Dan Newman, a political strategist who is working on the opposition campaign. “They’re doubling down on solidifying their places on the wrong side of history at a critical moment.”

Demonstrators march onto a Hwy 101 overpass during a protest organized by a group of young people to support Black Lives Matter on June 16, 2020 in Mill Valley, Calif.
Demonstrators march onto a Hwy 101 overpass during a protest organized by a group of young people to support Black Lives Matter on June 16, 2020 in Mill Valley, Calif. Photo: Kate Munsch / Special to The Chronicle

The ballot measure’s supporters started the initiative campaign long before the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd touched off anti-brutality protests across the country, and they’re not changing their approach now.

“Why should we? We just want reform, too” said Kelli Reid, a consultant to the campaign.

The campaign’s website says the past decade’s changes have led to “an explosion of serial theft and an inability of law enforcement to prosecute these crimes effectively.” The initiative’s proponents say they want to change parole rules because “parolees who repeatedly violate the terms of their parole currently face few consequences, allowing them to remain on the street.”

“If I stab you or beat you with a baseball bat, those are considered nonviolent crimes under the penal code (now),” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove (Sacramento County), a former Sacramento County sheriff’s captain who supports the measure. “These are not crazy things we’re proposing.”

A 2018 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, however, found “no evidence that violent crime increased as a result of Proposition 47.” The report did find that “it may have contributed to a rise in larceny thefts, which increased by roughly 9 percent” from 2014 to 2016.

Some leading Prop. 47 advocates see a contrast between the ballot measure and promises by local police unions to back changes in law enforcement.