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!”
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.
Use of Force Policy Review page on the City website
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?