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.