The county’s law enforcement watchdog agency released a report Wednesday that partly praised and criticized the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s use-of-force policies, an analysis triggered in part in response to the killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minnesota.

Sergio Perez, the executive director of the Office of Independent Review, cited the late filing of paperwork by deputies following use-of-force incidents as an example of where the department must improve.

There’s also a deficiency in training and lack of information in some of the department’s policies regarding use of force, Perez said.

“In certain areas they do not supply enough information,” Perez told City News Service. “Like de-escalation… I do hope that the issues we identify will lead the sheriff’s department to further review these policies and practices to have a full handle on what’s happening.”

The agency reviewed incidents from January through October 2020, Perez said.

“We couldn’t review every use-of-force incident,” he said. “So we did a random sample and we identified certain issues within that certain sample. I expect and anticipate those are present in other incidents not within the sample we reviewed.”

Perez said that in 21% of the incidents reviewed there was at least one report filed late. Deputies are required to file a report on a use-of-force incident by the end of their shift.

“Some were significantly late — one was late by 41 days,” Perez said. “That would be less troubling if we found in the supervisory review a flag of that late filing. But supervisors did not seem to be assessing or correcting on those issues.”

Perez said the deputy accounts of a use-of-force incident are often critical, especially because without surveillance video or dash-cam video there are no other accounts of what occurred. The sheriff’s department recently began a program to implement body-worn cameras.

“To understand how force is being used, how police are performing and training is being used in the real world, those reports are crucial,” Perez said.

Filing the reports by the end of shift “is in line with best practices,” Perez said.

Perez acknowledged that the tardy paperwork echoed what happened in the evidence booking scandal.

“It is certainly reminiscent of that,” Perez said. “And the supervisors aren’t even noting it. That is where the concerns ballooned for us.”

Since the booking scandal, sheriff’s officials have been cracking down on the paperwork and require that evidence is booked by the end of a deputy’s shift.

In Perez’s report, he found that the department’s force policies “frequently provide insufficient information and instruction regarding pivotal issues such as de-escalation, lack clarity and specific parameters regarding the use of force and the application of best practices, and mischaracterize weapons that are potentially lethal.”

Perez also said in the report that the department’s “training on force and crisis intervention revealed troubling cultural currents that may contribute to undesirable deputy conduct. Specifically, some instructors made statements and shared anecdotes that could encourage bias and run counter to certain policies and law. Certain courses, including those focused on improving interactions with individuals in mental health or other crises, lacked hands-on components or information relevant to deputies working within the jails.”

Perez pointed out one instructor in a crisis intervention course showed a slide with three photos and a caption: “Danger to Others? Why do all mass shooters look like mass shooters?”

Perez said that falsely suggests a deputy could determine someone’s threat level just on their appearance.

Perez also had praise for the department.

“In many respect, the department’s force-related policies are commendable,” according to the report. “For example, the policies generally are well-organized and include many of the necessary core concepts, including some key factors to consider when analyzing the use of force.”

The report pointed out that the department’s policy manual “provides a sufficient overview” of the Supreme Court case that established use-of-force law.

Sheriff Don Barnes issued a statement saying his department has “strict policy governing the use of force to ensure it is used appropriately and in accordance with the law. In 2020, out of the 309,009 calls for service and thousands of other daily public interactions, force was used in the community only 372 times, or 0.1% of calls for service. Refinement of policies, practices, and training must and does occur on an ongoing basis. Our policy development process includes an opportunity for comment by OIR staff.”

Barnes added that de-escalation is just one “component of our use of force policy, is part of our training, and is part of the day-to-day practice of deputies. In taking this approach, we are following the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force. De-escalation is trained on and used proficiently, but what matters is how de-escalation is used in practice. Commentary in the report shows an unfamiliarity with contemporary legislative changes and minimizes the extent to which de-escalation is utilized.”

Barnes said he looks forward to working with the Office of Independent Review, but did not find the report especially illuminating.

“I welcome oversight and am open to making changes to policy where appropriate, but I find the report to be lacking in substance and useful recommendations,” Barnes said.

“The OIR perspective will continue to be considered, and evidence-based recommendations rooted in best practice will be adopted.”

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