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Steps to Improve Police Training and Accountability

“We’re not anti-cop. We’re anti bad cop. Bad cops have to be fired, just like bad politicians”
– Leader of Black Lives Matter counter-protest, who was spontaneously invited to speak at a pro-Trump rally (watch video).

There aren’t too many things that are easier to agree on than this sentiment. Even those of us who offer nearly unequivocal support for law enforcement can agree that bad cops have to be fired. But progress in the form of better training and more accountability will be incremental, despite the fact that social media now makes every tragic incident – no matter how statistically insignificant – visceral and immediate.

Last year the City of Sacramento enacted incremental improvements to their local ordinances governing police department officer training and police accountability. The impetus for this came after a homeless, mentally ill man was shot 14 times by police for walking around with a knife in North Sacramento. As the Sacramento Bee editorialized, the incident “cried out for a new approach to police abuse, one that would set a statewide or even a national standard. Instead, hamstrung by local and state laws that over the years have made police accountability much too hard in California, the City Council had to settle for doing what it could around the margins, revamping civilian review, pushing for better training and slightly improving transparency in officer-involved killings.”

What the City of Sacramento did was not necessarily enough, but it is a good place to start. It represents a savvy mix of steps that accomplish as much as can be hoped for in the face of existing laws, most of them enacted by California’s legislature.

Here are key features of the City of Sacramento’s reform:

1 – De-escalation: Greater police training to emphasize de-escalation and other nonlethal tactics when confronting suspects.

2 – Body Cameras: Police also will have to wear body cams, which tend to make interactions between officers and the public more transparent and civil.

3 – Transparency: Dashcam video of police shootings will be made public after 30 days unless the department can prove it will compromise an investigation, and victims’ families will get a first look, which will shine a light on cases that too often get complicated by emotion and hearsay.

4 – Accountable to City Council: The Office of Public Safety Accountability will at last get some money and staffing, and will report to the City Council, not the city manager, who also oversees the Police Department.

5 – Civilian Oversight: A new oversight commission, made up entirely of civilians, will get broader powers to review complaints filed with the accountability office. This will include the ability to subpoena information when needed.

SAMPLE LANGUAGE – “OFFICER NEXT DOOR” FRAMEWORK

RESOLUTION NO. 2016-Adopted by the Sacramento City Council

ADOPTING THE OFFICER NEXT DOOR FRAMEWORK

BACKGROUND:

A. During the State of the City address on January 30, 2015, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced the Officer Next Door Program (OND).

B. The vision of the OND is that Sacramento will become the safest big city in California and a model of community policing practices.

C. The goals of implementing the OND program are a measurable decrease in crime and a measurable increase in community trust and engagement.

D. The OND framework consists of four pillars: Training, Diversity, Engagement, and Accountability. Implementation of these four pillars is in the best interest of the City of Sacramento to achieve the OND vision and goals:

1. Training: The police officers of the City of Sacramento will receive training that is nationally recognized as the best practices in community policing.
2. Diversity: The City’s police department (at all levels) will reflect the diversity of our City’s residents.
3. Engagement: The OND police force is actively engaged in the community that he or she is sworn to protect.
4. Accountability: Our police department is held accountable to the highest professional standards and embraces transparency.

BASED ON THE FACTS SET FORTH IN THE BACKGROUND, THE CITY COUNCIL RESOLVES AS FOLLOWS:

Section 1. The Officer Next Door Framework attached as Exhibit A is hereby approved.

Section 2. The City Manager or the City Manager’s designee is hereby authorized to take administrative actions and develop procedures to implement the OND Framework.

Exhibit A – Officer Next Door Framework

VISION & GOALS
To make Sacramento the safest big city in California and a model of community policing demonstrated by a measurable decrease in crime and a measurable increase in community trust and engagement

FRAMEWORK
– Training: The police officers of the City of Sacramento receive training that is nationally recognized as the best practices in community policing strategies.
– Diversity: The City’s police department (at all levels) will reflect the diversity of our city’s residents.
– Engagement: The Officer Next Door police force is actively engaged in the community he or she is sworn to protect.
– Accountability: Our police department is held accountable to the highest professional standards and embraces transparency.

TRAINING
Our Officers Receive Training That Is Nationally Recognized As The Best Practices In Community Policing Strategies

SUMMARY
We want our police officers to receive consistent, high-quality training to ensure that they are well equipped to address challenging situations that may arise as they are doing their important work in the community. Over the last decade, a myriad of training programs have been developed for public safety officials which can make them more effective when faced with difficult issues. Our police department must have the necessary resources to provide access to this type of training.

ACTION STEPS
We will continue to ensure that our officers are trained in the following:
– Cultural sensitivity
– Implicit bias and discrimination recognition
– Peaceful conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques to include less lethal options.
– Chronic and mental illness recognition training including peaceful conflict resolution and deescalation techniques.
– Problem-oriented policing

DIVERSITY
Our Police Department (At All Levels) Reflects The Diversity Of Our City’s Residents

SUMMARY
Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in America. As such, it is critical that we put proactive and deliberate strategies in place to ensure that our police force becomes more diverse. We strongly believe that this diversity will result in stronger community relations and robust engagement with our residents.

ACTION STEPS
We will work to implement the following:
– Targeted recruitment strategies focused on increasing diversity (of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
– Mentoring and professional development geared toward increasing diversity in police leadership and command structure.
– Incentive programs to encourage police officers to live in the City and hiring more officers who currently live in the city.
– Exploring the development of a public safety charter school.

ENGAGEMENT
Our Officers Are Actively Engaged In The Communities They Are Sworn To Protect

SUMMARY
Our police force is most effective when they have meaningful and trusting relationships in the communities they serve. We must work toward creating true collaboration and understanding between officers and residents, so that our work can be proactive and preventative.

ACTION STEPS
We will implement the following to increase engagement levels:
– Community activities such as youth listening sessions and education events.
– Youth development and crime prevention strategies like Summer Night Lights and the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Taskforce.
– Restoring police staffing levels to support community policing.
– Addressing underlying, systemic issues such as education and unemployment.

ACCOUNTABILITY
Our Police Department Is Held Accountable To The Highest Professional Standards And Embraces Transparency

SUMMARY
As a community, we need to have faith that our law enforcement officers are always operating in the best interests of our residents and community. We should consistently be sharing and discussing public safety data to ensure that we’re identifying where potential issues may exist and working to correct them. Equally important is the responsibility the public has to support our police department with the resources they need.

ACTION
We will implement the following to increase transparency and accountability

Increase transparency and availability of data to the public
– Release all video associated with an officer involved shooting, in-custody death, or complaint reported to OPSA within 30 days, where said video does not hamper, impede, or taint an ongoing investigation or endanger involved parties. The family of the decedent shall be offered the opportunity to review the video prior to public release. All faces will be blurred to protect the identity of those present and a warning will also be included to advise of the graphic content of the video. If the video cannot be made public by the 30th day, the Police Chief will provide the reasons and obtain a waiver from the Council.
– Work in coordination with the Coroner’s Office to notify the impacted family as soon as possible, an assign staff to the family to act as a liaison through the process.
– Adopt a use of force policy that encourages transparency and accountability.
– Respond to public records requests and other information requests in a reasonable and timely manner consistent with law.

Implement a body camera program
– Adopt a body camera video policy consistent with council policy and law.
– Ensure the program enhances transparency and availability of data to the public.

Changes to the Office of Public Safety Accountability (OPSA)
– Have OPSA Director report directly to the Council.
– Have OPSA be responsible for staffing the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission.

Changes to the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission (SCPRC)
– The Commission should be 100% civilian led.
– SCPRC to make policy recommendations to the City Council.
– SCPRC’s governance structure to be 11 members with one from each councilmember and three from the Mayor.
– The commission shall review quarterly reports prepared by the office of public safety accountability consistent with California Penal Code section 832.7(c), relating to the number, kind, and status of all citizen complaints filed against police department personnel, to determine whether there are patterns of misconduct that necessitate revisions to any police policy, practice, or procedure.

Monitor the national movement towards independent investigations

Monitoring and follow-up
– Bi-annual presentation and quarterly reports to the City Council and SCPRC on implementation of the OND Framework.
– Annual review of OND Framework implementation including activities of OPSA and SCPRC by the City Auditor.

SAMPLE LANGUAGE – ADOPTING A USE OF FORCE POLICY

RESOLUTION NO. 2016-Adopted by the Sacramento City Council

ADOPTING A USE OF FORCE POLICY

The sanctity of life is inviolable and every person is precious. Developing and maintaining a professional and highly trained police force is imperative. In an effort to guarantee that all lives are protected and valued in the City of Sacramento, Council is adopting the following policy that requires the City Manager to ensure the police:

A. Are authorized to use deadly force only when an officer reasonably believes that a suspect poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or others.

B. Issue a clear and comprehensible verbal warning, when possible, before using deadly force.

C. Use the minimum amount of force necessary, under the circumstances presented to the officer, to apprehend a subject.

D. Develop and issue specific guidelines for the type of force and tools authorized for a given level of resistance.

E. Are issued and carry less-lethal weapons consistent with current best practice.

F. Do not move in front of moving vehicles.

G. Do not shoot at moving vehicles unless the person poses a threat with a weapon other than the vehicle OR has exhibited a specific intent to use the vehicle as a weapon.

H. Intervene when an officer observes another officer using force that is clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances, and when in a position to do so, to prevent the use of unreasonable force and report the incident to their immediate supervisor as soon as reasonably possible.

Monitoring Method: Council Report

Frequency: Semi-Annual (March & September)

I. Receive training in de-escalating encounters with the public, to include mentally ill individuals.

J. Are trained in basic first aid and render such aid (as soon as it is safe to do so) after a deadly force incident.

K. Make death notifications to family members of a subject that has died as a result of an officer involved shooting or while in police custody.

L. Release all video associated with an officer involved shooting, in-custody death, or complaint reported to OPSA within 30 days, where said video does not hamper, impede, or taint an ongoing investigation or endanger involved parties. The family of the decedent shall be offered the opportunity to review the video prior to public release. All faces will be blurred to protect the identity of those present and a warning will also be included to advise of the graphic content of the video. If the video cannot be made public by the 30th day, the Police Chief will provide the reasons and obtain a waiver from the Council

REFERENCES

City of Sacramento City Council Report, November 29, 2016
http://sacramento.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=22&clip_id=3900&meta_id=485761

City of Sacramento City Council, Archived Meetings
http://sacramento.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=22

Sacramento’s new rules are just a first step toward police reform, Sacramento Bee, December 1, 2016
http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article118330608.html

Heavyweight Los Angeles law firm to challenge Sacramento on police practices, Sacramento Bee, November 27, 2016
http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article117615278.html

A lost opportunity on police reform, Sacramento Bee Editorial, June 6. 2015
http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article23220456.html

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?

“We thought [the employees we fired] were inappropriate to be employees of the city.”
– Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks (ret.), in reference to the termination of corrupt police officers, Rampart scandal (late 1990’s)

About a year ago we published an editorial asking this question, “How much does professionalism cost,” using as an example the tragic death of Kelly Thomas. In that case, six police officers repeatedly struck with batons and tased an unarmed man, who died a few days later of his injuries. Since that tragedy back in 2011, numerous cases of police misconduct have surfaced, many of them with equally tragic consequences. The latest one, while inexcusable, is more farce than tragedy, involving a team of Santa Ana police officers who recently raided a marijuana dispensary in that city.

The misconduct didn’t involve murderous violence, but it did involve blatantly unprofessional behavior. Once the officers secured the dispensary and ejected the staff and customers, they proceeded to disable the security cameras, and, at least according to the video recording from the camera they neglected to destroy, some went on to gobble up marijuana “edibles.” Watch this video and make up your own mind whether or not these individuals are engaging in conduct appropriate for employees of the Santa Ana police department.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, on his radio talk show, has frequently discussed the issue of police misconduct. He makes an observation that bears repeating – in a population of over 1.0 million police officers in the United States, it is inevitable that you will have bad apples. It is statistically impossible to have a group of humans that large, where every single individual will be beyond reproach. There will always be a percentage of crooks and thugs who slip through. It can’t be helped.

Critics of police fall roughly into two camps – those who are concerned about police respecting civil rights, and those who are concerned about excessive police pay and benefits. While there’s overlap, these are very distinct concerns. But those who are concerned police overstate the risks of their job in order to justify increasing their pay are often the same ones who overlook the fact that police misconduct can also be overstated. Critics can’t have it both ways. Police fatalities are rare. Police misconduct is also rare.

What can be helped, however, is how police who do cross the line are held accountable.

According to a source at an Orange County blog that covered the pot bust, the supervising officer on the scene was Alex Sanchez, a police sergeant with the city of Santa Ana who in 2013 made $107,952 in regular pay, $27,205 in “other pay,” $16,184 in overtime pay, and earned employer paid benefits of another $68,820. In other words, this officer earned pay and direct benefits during 2013 of $221,162. This rate of pay is not unusual. Take a look at the pay for Santa Ana city employees – note how nearly all of the high paying positions are for police officers.

Citizens have a right to expect better behavior from a police officer who makes this much money. And a police officer who makes this much money should be prepared to be held accountable. In the corporate world, on-the-job drug use, vandalism, or insults directed at a member of a protected status group are all grounds for instant termination. And in the corporate world, despite repeated claims to the contrary by government union propagandists, total compensation packages in excess of $200,000 per year are very unusual. Notwithstanding that incessantly cited handful of rapacious and untouchable Wall Street bankers, corporate managers and executives who make $200,000 or more per year have little or no job security, and are held accountable, and terminated, for transgressions of far less import.

There’s more. When critics of police conduct say police should not consider themselves above the law, they’re right, but they don’t go far enough. Police should not merely obey the law, they should be role models. By their words and deeds they should inspire the rest of us. The destruction of cameras, the needless vandalism, the profanity, and the insults undermine respect for law enforcement, which is the human face of the laws we must obey.

Police unions not only highlight the risk officers face as the reason they deserve excellent pay and benefits, they highlight the professional requirements of the job. Police perform an incredibly difficult job that goes well beyond the physical risk they live with. Every day, they have to deal with uncertain, volatile situations, with agitated individuals and groups, with hostility and disrespect, and with violent criminals. Police work in 2014 America requires more professionalism than ever. That’s why they’re paid like professionals. But with professionalism comes accountability.

Police officers depend on the trust and solidarity of their colleagues. That is a necessary and proper element of an effective police force. But police unions overlay onto that solidarity an us-vs-them mentality, as well as a layer of protection against individual accountability, that at the least may be described as problematic. Police unions, like teachers unions, may consciously proclaim their commitment to the broad public interest, but their organizational agenda invariably pulls them away from the people they serve.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.