The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month has initiated vigorous nationwide discussion recently about racial injustice and police brutality, and presented new challenges and opportunities for local law enforcement to address in their communities.
Tri-Valley police departments in Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, Danville and San Ramon have roundly denounced Floyd's death as an example of using excessive force and bad policing. Through enacted state legislation over the past several years and public outcry over a number of highly publicized deaths involving police using excessive force, local agencies said they have focused on minimizing fatal incidents with additional training and revising or adopting policies on use of force and de-escalation to avoid injuries and fatalities.
"We can never be satisfied with the status quo, and now, more than ever, we need to dedicate ourselves to continuous improvement," San Ramon Police Craig Stevens said in a statement that acknowledged growing public sentiment for regular officer evaluations and reviews of department training and procedures.
Sgt. Steve Goard of the Livermore Police Department told the Weekly, "I haven't spoken to a single officer who thinks what happened in Minneapolis isn't short of disgusting. We think that's disgusting and should never have happened. It's a very popular phrase but it's so true: 'One thing a good cop hates most is a bad cop'. We don't want those people in our profession, and we can identify and get them out, and I think that's something our agency's really good at."
Many of the criteria outlined by the newly launched "8 Can't Wait" campaign -- which advocates for the national adoption of eight policies that are shown to reduce killings by police and save lives, like requiring officers to report any misconduct and banning chokeholds and strangleholds -- are already protocol or being considered by the agencies that were interviewed. According to Goard, Livermore has actively worked to implement newer policing practices since former President Barack Obama formed the Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
"We put into effect a lot of stuff from President Obama's recommendations," Goard said, adding the public feedback was "instant" and highly positive.
In the case of the Danville Police Department, which is governed by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, Police Chief Allan Shields said there's "a delay in policy" and that policy corrections are not only recommended "all the time" but actually put California ahead of the rest of the country in requiring officers to use all options before shooting.
"The interesting thing about 8 Can't Wait is that's a conversation we were having several years ago. The level of training we're giving our officers far exceeds what 8 Can't Wait is asking," Shields said, adding that states laws like Assembly Bill 392 and Senate Bill 230 -- which cover the used force continuum and require officers to exhaust all means before shooting -- have laid the groundwork for further development.
During a webinar on policing last week, Dublin Police Chief Garrett Holmes said it's "difficult to talk about national law enforcement" because of the many layers that exist from local policing to state and federal law enforcement.
"For us in California, here, we're very fortunate that usually we're on the forefront of any sort of reforms in law enforcement and sometimes it takes longer for other parts of the country to catch up with us," Holmes said.
Though different than the video-recorded actions of the former officer who knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes before Floyd died, widespread protests have led a number of law enforcement agencies throughout the state to recently end the use of carotid restraints, also called sleeper holds, which restrict blood flow by adding pressure to the sides of a person's neck.
All of the Tri-Valley agencies have done the same as well, prohibiting its use along with strangleholds and chokeholds, which were already banned in Livermore.
"Our policy has always been no chokeholds and strangleholds. We allowed carotid restraint and the reason is there's a difference," Goard said. "With a stranglehold, you're stopping someone from breathing but a carotid hold slows the blood flow to the brain, which allows the person to faint and gives the officer five to ten seconds to act. We had that in our use-of-force policy but could only use it under the most extreme and dire circumstances."
Livermore banned the use of carotid restraints on June 5 in response to public backlash, though Goard said the move already made sense. "It's such a rare application of force, at least for our agency, that as we got together, we just agreed it's completely understandable, and so we immediately made that change."
Pleasanton Police Chief David Swing told the Weekly that his department also "made the decision to temporarily suspend the use of carotid restraints" while they seek more feedback on the matter.
"As we have our community conversation and understand and listen first to our community ... we will also take a closer look at whether it's policies, training, whatever is appropriate," Swing said. "Use of force by our officers occurs in 0.06% of all our contacts; the carotid restraint is much less frequent than that."
Less than a month on the job in Pleasanton after making the move north from the Morgan Hill Police Department, where he was also chief, Swing said Pleasanton officers are also trained in several different force options that are available "when needed to ensure community safety or the officer's safety."
The Pleasanton City Council majority last Tuesday directed city staff to bring forward a draft action plan that will outline the process for future community conversations and public consideration of issues related to policing policies and practices in Pleasanton. They expect to hold a council meeting next month to discuss the future draft action plan only, with a community listening session before the council to follow soon thereafter.
"I think it's important that our community knows that we truly hear and see our community on this important topic," Swing said. "We are committed to engaging in constructive dialogue, we know that is paramount. As we begin this conversation, it is my hope that this further strengthens community partnerships and this is the start of a new engagement process that allows us to receive continuous feedback from the community."