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Oceanside Police Chief commits to mandatory de-escalation policy

Oceanside Police de-escalation community meeting
Tania Thorne
Oceanside Police chief and captains sit on a stage at the Oceanside Sanctuary church during a community meeting discussing the departments de-escalation policy. Nov. 9, 2021.

In a community meeting Tuesday night, Oceanside Police Chief Fred Armijo committed to updating the department’s use of force policy to make attempting de-escalation mandatory.

More than 200 community members told the chief and his captains they urgently need a mandatory de-escalation policy in the Oceanside Police Department.

Oceanside’s current police de-escalation policy reads, “When interacting with persons in crisis and situations in which the use of force is likely, and when feasible, officers should use de-escalation strategies.”

The word “should” does not make using de-escalation mandatory. Attendees want Oceanside's police to match policies in San Diego and La Mesa, which say de-escalation “shall” be used.

RELATED: Experts, Activists Say San Diego's New Police De-escalation Policy May Not Change Much

Reverend Jason Coker, the lead pastor of the Oceanside Sanctuary Church where the event was held, said the change would make people feel safer.

“We must work together to ensure that what happened to people like Breonna Taylor or George Floyd never occurs in Oceanside,” he said.

Other attendees shared personal experiences.

“The inability to act upon de-escalation practices has caused distrust,” one community member said.

Armijo was put on the spot when he was asked if he was willing to change the de-escalation policy.

“Let me be as direct as you deserve, the answer is ‘yes,’” he said. “We have committed to change ‘should’ to ‘shall’ and the way we onboard new policies in our department is, we give a 30 day acclamation period before it is effective.”

Last year, the Oceanside Justice Coalition sent recommendations to the Oceanside police chief after analyzing the department’s use of force policy.

“Intentionally modifying the language to state ‘shall’ is the request from many people in the community,” said Jimmy Figueroa with the Oceanside Justice Coalition. “The police department was created to serve the community. They work for the community, so changing the language is the correct move to make to build trust with the community the department serves.”

Community members are happy about the change, but say this conversation is only the beginning.

Max Disposti, the executive director for the North County LGBTQ resource center, said there are more questions following the change.

“If someone doesn’t follow those policies, what’s going to happen?” he said. “What's the accountability? What is the transparency about the process? That’s why we need more work because this is a great step, a great beginning but there is more to it.”

Armijo said the change will go into effect in 30 days and police officers will need to pass a written test on the new policy changes.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, there are a lot of things that we need to do within the organization to become a bit more contemporary,” he said.

Oceanside Police Chief commits to mandatory de-escalation policy