Use of Force: The Debate Over AB931


This past week Chief Amy Christie of Pacific Grove and I debated Deputy Public Defender Zach Schwarzbach and Civil Rights Attorney John Burris over the police use of force and the efficacy of AB931. The forum was co-hosted by the ACLU and NAACP.

My purpose of accepting this engagement was to defend and support you, the cops who are doing their best to improve life in Santa Cruz.  My mission, to bring a greater understanding of your job and the care you take in all incidents. I believe that the mission was accomplished. I learned some along the way.

Here are a few takeaways from the debate:

  • The police and rights groups can have a civil conversation even when the stakes are high, and our opinions are often opposite ends of the spectrum. That is healthy for our community, our profession, our society.
  • I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color and afraid of the police.  Regardless if I believe that fear is justified or not, it is real and palpable.
  • 329 million Americans don’t know what it’s like to wear a blue uniform.  As a Chief Officer, I don’t even know what it’s like to work patrol day in and out in an environment that is often toxic.
  • The data is clear. Law enforcement makes 1/2 billion contacts a year. About 1,000 of those incidents ended in tragedy. Of the 1,000, about 150+/- are unarmed and end in death. Of those, 7 did not appear justified.  (Based on the book, In Context)
  • Society is inherently bias.  (Education, employment, health care, law, religion, courts, etc.) Trying to fix racism by onerous legislation makes little sense. I believe this will have the counter effect.  Disappointment will exasperate the community because people will still confront the police in altered states of consciousness.  When it is beyond the control of the community, the police are the only resource left. That will not change.
  • Crime clusters in poor, uneducated and substandard housing communities.  Unfortunately, many minority communities are segregated to these neighborhoods. They do receive disproportionate police attention. The police are desperately needed there. For there to be equity, justice, and fairness-these problems have to be fixed. Without fixing systemic and institutional racism AB931 is false hope.
  • Our cops are made of flesh and blood. Some are tough; many are not. Few are black belts in BJJ. Don’t expect superhuman skillsets from everyday people. Use of force is ugly, each and every time.
  • When the police are wrong, police officers must speak up and not make excuses for errant behavior. Many cops, nationwide are speaking out. This cannot be confined to criminal acts, rather inappropriate acts as well.
  • We as a profession must do better in how we deal with violent confrontations, including with the mentally ill. PERF published 30 suggestions to reduce shootings. We should accept and implement most of them.  SCPD pro-actively provided advanced de-escalation training and others.
  • AB931, maybe well intended but will not have the effect the authors intended. It will only lead to a false hope and disillusionment. “Well if only you had…” For example last week a guy passed out with a gun in his lap. Sgt. Dave Forbus and team carefully deescalated it by using ballistic shields from a position of advantage. The man complied without the police using force. But, what if he had awoken and raised the weapon toward an officer. After the fact, private attorneys would sue and alleged the police should have broken out the window first, or pump CS gas into the car, use pepper balls, stun guns or stand 1,000 yards back?  Each of those would have had disastrous consequences. Many I believe understood our reasoning.
  • If you want community policing, and we do, the Legislature must practice community-oriented government. Part of that means including stakeholders in the decision-making process. That was not done w AB931 and. I think the exclusion was purposeful.

It is important to me as an American, father, cop, and humanitarian to continue this discussion in a civil and honest manner. We need to reduce violent confrontations for the community and the police.

People like Lee Brokaw (ACLU) and Brenda Griffin (NAACP) suggested this forum, I thank you!


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