Agencies Are Updating Policies, Training to Comply With New Use-of-Force Standards

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Agencies Are Updating Policies to Comply With New Use-of-Force Standards

A VOSD review of police department policies suggests that law enforcement agencies in San Diego County are complying with new use-of-force standards ahead of the deadline.

The Chula Vista Police Department. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

This post originally appeared in the June 19 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

It’s been nearly one year since the passage of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s AB 392, a major statewide reform that changed the legal standards guiding police use of deadly force. It was the first substantial alteration to the statute in a century.

A companion bill, SB 230, required that by 2021, police agencies throughout the state reflect those changes in their policies and make the policies publicly accessible.

A VOSD review of those documents suggests that all the police agencies in San Diego County are complying with the law ahead well ahead of the deadline. Most lifted the language directly from Weber’s bill, instructing officers that it is reasonable to use deadly force “to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.”

This is what’s known as “objectively reasonable” force in the eyes of the law.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which employs approximately 4,000 people — sworn personnel and support staff — used slightly different phrasing. The Sheriff’s policy instructs deputies that it is reasonable to use deadly force “in defense of any person in immediate danger of death, or the threat of serious physical injury.”

The major difference here is that state law says “imminent threat” and the sheriff says “immediate danger.” Joe Kocurek, a spokesman for Weber, said the variation is not a concern, so long as the Sheriff’s definition of “immediate” meets the state’s definition of “imminent.”

Lt. Ricardo Lopez, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said in an email that he’s confident they’re the same.

The Sheriff’s policy was last reviewed in 2015, so it actually predates AB 392 by four years.

“Being objectively reasonable was already in our policy and procedures,” Lopez said.

New Training Delayed by Coronavirus

AB 392’s changes have legal consequences. But the words don’t mean all that much unless the sworn officers are aware of them and absorb them into their daily interactions with the public.

That’s why so much of the discussion around use of force in Sacramento last year revolved around the importance of training. SB 230 required that the state commission responsible for California’s minimum police standards roll new courses to its mandatory training sessions totaling 24 hours, which are completed by sworn officers every two years.

Specifically, SB 230 highlighted de-escalation and interpersonal communication, “including tactical methods that use time, distance, cover and concealment, to avoid escalating situations that lead to violence.” It also cited implicit and explicit bias and cultural competency.

Separate from those ongoing courses, the San Diego County district attorney’s office has been hosting its own eight-hour training session in partnership with the county’s psychiatric emergency response team.

“We are currently enhancing the de-escalation training in the areas of implicit and explicit bias and cultural competency,” wrote Steve Walker, a spokesman for the DA’s Office, in an email.

The DA’s training mirrors much of what’s in SB 230. Walker said instructors emphasize reverence for human life and the dignity and liberty of all persons. They also teach communication that’s intended to avoid escalated tensions and violence, and use simulations and role play.

Lt. Shawn Takeuchi, a spokesman for SDPD, which helped develop the local courses, said they built off the curriculum laid out by the state. The instructions got rolling in January but were put temporarily on hold in March because of the pandemic.

Instructors are now developing virtual and advanced courses. “All agencies within San Diego County have participated in the training and will continue to participate in the future,” Walker said.

In addition to that, some agencies have also begun providing in-house legal updates to their officers to comply in part with AB 392.

Chula Vista police Capt. Phil Collum told me that only “small number of personnel” in his city had “yet to complete it” because of the pandemic.

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