Police standards investigated in Santa Cruz County report


The Santa Cruz Police Department handcuffed a man on Mission Street, Santa Cruz in 2020. (Stephen Baxter – Santa Cruz Local File)

SANTA CRUZ >> A 10-month review of Santa Cruz District Law Enforcement Policies found similar rules across the five major agencies, but also some differences in the way police deal with residents ‘complaints and records of officers’ use of force .

The Santa Cruz District Criminal Justice Council Ad hoc Committee on Law Enforcement Policies and Procedures worked on the report with leaders from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and police chiefs from Capitola, Watsonville, Scotts Valley, and Santa Cruz. Watsonville-based Applied Survey Research compiled the data and produced the report.

Santa Cruz District Overseer Zach Friend and Santa Cruz City Councilor Justin Cummings began work in February in response to national and local calls for police reform following the 2020 assassination of George Floyd.

Cummings said some local residents told him they were concerned about the inequality of treatment by the Santa Cruz police force, sheriff’s deputies and officers from other law enforcement agencies in the Santa Cruz district. One way to try to ensure more even enforcement across all police departments has been to examine where their policies are consistent and different. During these discussions, law enforcement officers and other committee members also discussed patrol and traffic control practices.

“Policies and procedures are fundamental to how (police) conduct is carried out. But it’s also a covenant with the wider community, ”Friend said during an online Criminal Justice Council session Thursday. Friend was a criminal analyst and spokesman for the Santa Cruz Police Department for about 10 years before becoming a district overseer.

“I think this is also a good first step for law enforcement officials to take as you move forward and modernize and update the guidelines or create new ones,” Friend said at the meeting with the law enforcement officers. Watsonville Interim Police Chief Tom Sims attended the meeting on Thursday, as did Scotts Valley Police Chief Steve Walpole, Capitola Police Chief Andy Dally, and Deputy Sheriff Deputy Chris Clark.

UC Santa Cruz Police Department and California Highway Patrol leaders did not participate in the committee because they are not members of the Criminal Justice Council. Committee members said they believe they will be the first in California to look at law enforcement guidelines across the county.

Report results

The group examined each police agency’s policies on the use of force, technology, independent oversight, behavioral health interventions, and community transparency. Essentially, the group found that mental health and behavioral health guidelines were worthy of further investigation. The committee plans to present a report next year.

Main similarities

  • According to the report, there is “widespread political orientation” in most areas. For example, all police officers are required to intervene if they see another officer or deputy doing something that violates the guidelines.
  • The authorities have all the guidelines requiring officers to try to defuse violent situations and use “less lethal force” like a taser before using lethal force.
  • All agencies require their officers and agents to complete training on implicit bias.
  • All agencies publish body camera recordings to the public.
  • The agencies have banned all strangleholdings, entering houses without knocking, and under “most circumstances” banning shooting at or from moving vehicles.
  • No agency uses predictive policing or facial recognition. Predictive policing – which originally used historical data to increase patrols in areas with frequent vehicle thefts and other property crimes – was touted by the Santa Cruz Police Department during its inception in 2011. A company was set up to sell the technology to other agencies. Santa Cruz its use banned in 2020 partly because of allegations of racial prejudice.

Main differences

  • All authorities except the Watsonville Police Department report the use of force by officers and proxies.
  • Only the Santa Cruz Police Department publicly reports complaints from local residents against police personnel. The sheriff’s office and police in Watsonville, Scotts Valley and Capitola do not publicly report complaints from local residents.
  • Only the Santa Cruz Police Department has an independent police inspector, or “any form of independent oversight,” according to the report. A Watsonville city committee recently recommended that city officials meet with a potential new police auditor.
  • Executives from all agencies except the sheriff’s office said they would benefit from a mental crisis response without proxies or officers. Sheriff’s Office officials said they were “neutral” about creating a non-police response to mental health calls. Police leaders in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Capitola and Scotts Valley said they would “assist” in creating a no-law enforcement response. Some Santa Cruz County residents have campaigned for the change after two residents were shot dead by law enforcement on separate calls related to mental health problems in recent years.

The Criminal Justice Council recently released a strategy and review analysis of the Santa Cruz District Regional Public Security Agency. View the full report. (Criminal Justice Council / Applied Survey Research)

The Criminal Justice Council recently published a Policy and Review Analysis by the Santa Cruz District Regional Public Security Agency. View the full report. (Criminal Justice Council / Applied Survey Research)

Freund, Scotts Valley Police Chief Steve Walpole, and others said they were satisfied with the transparency and alignment of the guidelines. “However, individuals’ experience with law enforcement can vary for many reasons,” Friend said.

Although the Criminal Justice Council approved the report on Thursday, police chiefs in Watsonville, Capitola were expecting the findings to be presented to their city councils for discussion. It is likely that the Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley Councils will also discuss the report. Santa Cruz City Council member Cummings said part of the report is helping residents better understand what is in police policy.

The Criminal Justice Council has been trying to prevent crime and gang activity for more than 30 years by coordinating elected city and county leaders, law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, and leaders of nonprofits and educational institutions.

Clockwise from top left, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, Capitola Police Chief Andy Dally, Interim Watsonville Police Chief Tom Sims, and Scotts Valley Police Chief Steve Walpole. The chiefs and others attended an online meeting of the Santa Cruz District Criminal Justice Council Thursday. (Screenshot)

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