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San Diego Mayor, Police Chief Announce More Policing Reforms

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Officers are now required to make de-escalation a priority while on patrol, and they must intervene if they witness a fellow officer using excessive force.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A new standalone policy aimed at reducing police use of force has been unveiled in San Diego. City. Officials say the new directives are based on recommendations from the city's community review board on police practices and the citizens advisory board on police community relations police chief David [inaudible] says, officers will now be required to deescalate potentially violent encounters and must intervene against officers using excessive force.

Speaker 2: 00:30 We really changed the deescalation, I'm sorry, duty to intervene policy where it used to say you may or should to a shell. It's an absolute, it's a mandate that if an officer sees an officer using forces unreasonable for the resistance that they're trying to overcome, that the officer must intervene and other than her being could be in the method of first a verbal to an actual touching to an actual restraint. And it's spelled out in that policy. And again, I believe this policy is one of the most robust in the nation.

Speaker 1: 00:58 Joining me now is KPBS investigative reporter, Claire Tresor and Claire. Welcome. Thank you. Many of these guidelines are already interwoven into San Diego police training, but now they are part of a so-called stand alone policy. What difference is that intended to make?

Speaker 3: 01:15 Right, specifically, if we're talking about deescalation, that was already a recommended procedure, um, in the San Diego police department, but now they have created this brand new policy that outlines the deescalation steps that officers have to take. And so it really, for the first time creates the requirement that deescalation be used. So it's kind of adding to, uh, all of the other policies that, um, the police officers have to follow. And I think it was, it was impart modeled after, uh, the Baltimore police department's deescalation policy. And that's also a separate standalone policy that makes deescalation or requirement. And that came about last year. I think it was finally, uh, created last year and also was inspired in part by protests in that city, over the death of Freddie gray.

Speaker 1: 02:09 How might this new policy change? How SDPD officers respond to incidents in the field?

Speaker 3: 02:15 Well, it's not yet really clear how it's going to play out. Um, it does have these new requirements for actions that officers should take when interacting with the public, including that they take into consideration the person's age and mental state, and the fact that maybe they don't speak English or they don't understand what the officer is saying, but it also has the section that says when it's safe and reasonable to do so, based on the totality of circumstances, officers shall use deescalation tactics. And so it could be, the officers would still be able to justify not using deescalation by saying, you know, that it wasn't safe and reasonable to do so. I mean, already, we know officers can use reasonable force, including firing their weapons if necessary. And then we see that that's almost always, it's almost always ruled that their decisions to fire were reasonable.

Speaker 3: 03:12 So I think we'll have to wait and see how this plays out as, as officers begin using it. And what are some of the deescalation techniques officers can use? So the new policy says that, you know, when they have the time and the opportunity, they, they need to create this distance, they call it a buffer zone. So basically it means instead of, you know, running up and approaching someone quickly, you maybe use your squad car or something else to kind of have some space between you. And the point of that is, first of all, it's not threatening to the person that you're approaching, especially if they're having a mental health issue or something to have someone run up on them can kind of escalate situations, but it also then protects the officer so that he or she doesn't get into a position where then he has to use force to protect himself because he's having this space when he's approaching someone, how are community activists reacting to these new policies? As we're seeing the past few weeks, elected officials are really trying to make reforms very quickly in response to a lot of the protests that have been going on here and really across the world. Um, but the activists I've spoke to say, they feel like if that's the intention, um, you know, that more really needs to be done. Um, so here's call it Alexander. And he's the founder of, uh, um, criminal justice advocacy reform organization called pillars of the community.

Speaker 4: 04:42 One of the things that I feel strongly about having been involved in, in conversations, um, with, uh, this chief and chiefs in the past, um, is that until they recommend, until they can acknowledge the existence of racial profiling, there's really not too far. Any conversation can happen

Speaker 3: 05:00 When these policies were announced yesterday, there wasn't really any acknowledgement of, you know, racial disparities in use of force, the bad history between the San Diego police department and communities of color in, in San Diego. And so I think, you know, his point is that he wants to see more discussion about that. More recognition of that. If the point of all of this is to have healing in that relationship, what is it that the police union in San Diego saying about this? So it was asked yesterday when, when the policies were announced and, um, the, the police union or sorry, police chief David in his light said that, uh, the police union is on board. Um, we got a statement from Jack Shafer, who's the president. And he says, well, our department has long been at the forefront of crafting high standards for deescalation training and implementation. Our association strongly approves the adoption of a new explicit deescalation policy. Um, and he goes on to say that it really clarifies, uh, existing policies and that that can strengthen community trusting and confidence in the officers.

Speaker 1: 06:07 Now, the deescalation policy was expected to be released last week. Do we know the reason behind the delay?

Speaker 3: 06:13 I wish that I knew because yeah, I was waiting and waiting for it. But, um, two weeks ago, I think it was, um, mayor Kevin Faulkner said, you know, this is coming very soon. And I think that he was maybe rushing to just have something out there and say, we're working on this. You know, we're going to make these changes to, again, appease people in the community who were, who were pretty upset. And then he said yesterday that he, that they needed to work with, um, a variety of, of citizens groups and the police department. So I would imagine that it was just, you know, negotiating and trying to get everybody on the same page and to have everyone be able to sign off on what the final policies were,

Speaker 1: 06:57 Did chief newsline say, when officers will be trained on the new policy and how soon it will go into effect,

Speaker 3: 07:03 Right? So already, um, San Diego police officers are getting 10 hours of deescalation training that was even before this policy came out and that's to fulfill a new state requirement. And so that's kind of happening gradually over the next year or two chief in his light said yesterday that now there's an online portal that officers use to get their training and that these new policies will be sent to that online portal. And so they will be trained specifically on these new policies, in addition to whenever they receive their separate deescalation training. But he didn't say exactly, you know, when, when that would happen.

Speaker 1: 07:42 I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. And Claire. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 5: 07:54 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.