Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved a resolution supporting crossover investigations of lethal force incidents involving sheriff’s deputies — ensuring the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t investigate itself — as well as backing a different approach to handling mentally ill individuals in an effort to prevent deadly confrontations.
“There is no one who wants to change the reputation or the perception of law enforcement currently more than I do,” Sheriff Chad Bianco told the Board of Supervisors ahead of its 5-0 vote. “We can make Riverside County better than what other parts of the country have. I am supportive of this resolution. It’s a very good starting point.”
Supervisors Karen Spiegel and Chuck Washington jointly proposed the resolution, titled “Commitment to Evidence-Based Policing and Transparency by Allied Law Enforcement Agencies in Riverside County.”
The substance of the proposal was for the board to acknowledge several policy overhauls already favored by the Allied Riverside County Chiefs of Police and Sheriff (ARCCOPS), which has been working since the start of the year to modify practices in an effort to boost public confidence in local enforcement tactics.
Outrage over the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day placed greater emphasis on quickening the pace of change and broadening it, according to Spiegel and Washington.
The supervisors’ resolution embraces the idea of having a permanently active unit that will cross-utilize personnel to investigate deadly force encounters. Bianco, District Attorney Mike Hestrin, the heads of a dozen municipal law enforcement agencies and three college police departments, as well as the California Highway Patrol, agreed that the unit will promote transparency and accountability.
“No police agency that has one of its officers involved in a shooting should be investigating itself,” Hestrin told the board. “We have been working to bring Riverside County to the forefront of cutting edge practices. This will make sure we can never do an internal investigation again. A use-of-force investigation team is long overdue … With this, you could have a Palm Springs police officer or a D.A.’s office investigator scrutinizing the use of force employed by a sheriff’s deputy.”
Spiegel said the change will put the county in the position of “leading the nation in modern policing methods.”
“This is a collaborative resource model,” she said. “This is not one-sided. We want what is best for the citizens and everybody in the county.”
According to the resolution, ARCCOPS should also move toward joint training in the best approach for “de-escalation” of potential lethal encounters with suspects.
“This includes the use of specialized teams, such as SWAT and other special operations, where situations can be slowed down using time and distance to prevent violent confrontations while simultaneously preserving life and public safety,” the resolution states.
All of the dozen or so individuals who called in to the board meeting — which was held virtually as a precaution against coronavirus exposure — opposed the resolution, generally because they perceived it would be another funding mechanism for public safety and did not go far enough in reforming law enforcement procedures.
No funding was attached to the proposal.
Hestrin said the idea of de-funding law enforcement or trying to put civilian panels in charge of use-of-force investigations was unrealistic.
“Civilian bodies cannot investigate law enforcement actions. The law doesn’t allow it, and it just isn’t right,” the D.A. said. “And if you take away resources from the police, there’s less training, less tools and fewer options.”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries felt “everything is on boil” in the current environment, and many individuals are “hyper-emotional” about anything to do with public safety.
“I’m confident the D.A. and sheriff are doing a good job,” he said.
A final reform sought in the resolution is deployment of mental health specialists with law enforcement officers to detain individuals who are known to have mental disorders or who are homeless.
It is unclear how or when such pairings would be implemented, but according to the supervisors, several law enforcement agencies are already in the process of utilizing behavioral health experts for some field operations.
“This collaboration can work to de-escalate potentially volatile and violent situations,” according to the resolution. “The collaboration’s goal is to increase connections to resources and social service programs, provide crisis triage alternatives … engage homeless populations, minimize arrests, reduce repeat encounters with law enforcement and use-of-force encounters.”
Supervisor Manuel Perez initially opposed the resolution, saying he believed Department of Public Social Services staff should have had an opportunity to weigh in and analyze it.
“This is a bit rushed,” he said. “There’s a lot of information, and more should be explored.”
The supervisor was also displeased that the proposal pre-empted one he and Jeffries are still refining on their own concerning a broader strategy to improve public safety relations with various communities.
However, Washington incorporated into the resolution recognition of the ongoing work of Perez and Jeffries and said it would be a complement to whatever they produce.
His and Jeffries’ proposal is likely to be drafted and put before the public in August.
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