While two of the Tri-Valley’s cities recently appeared on a list placing police departments under the microscope, officials weighed in with insight on how change is already underway.

As part of Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait campaign to bring immediate change to police departments following the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, agencies across the nation appeared on a list of those the public should pressure for reform. Both Livermore and Pleasanton were present.

The campaign outlines eight items in need of reform and those with which the cities are not in compliance. Those eight guidelines seek to ban choke-holds, require de-escalation, require warning before shooting, require an exhaustion of alternatives before shooting, require a duty to intervene, ban shooting at moving vehicles, require use of force continuum and require comprehensive reporting.

According to the #8CantWait website, both Livermore and Pleasanton’s departments appear to permit choke-holds — a technique under particular scrutiny after Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes — but Livermore Police Department (LPD) Sgt. Steve Goard said the data is outdated. He noted that the mechanism of a carotid restraint is different from a choke-hold, which wasn’t allowed per LPD policy. Rather, his agency permitted carotid restraints until June 5, when that technique was also completely removed.

“We’ve never allowed strangle- or choke-holds, which stop someone from breathing,” Goard said. “The (carotid) restraint, although it’s around the neck, is a tool that doesn’t stop breathing. What it does is restricts blood flow — it takes 5 to 6 seconds, and then you let go and handcuff the person … but it was reserved for the most extreme cases, and upon review, they ended up removing it completely.”

The LPD’s decision fell on the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in a press conference that he will support new legislation drafted by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson), Assembly Bill (AB) 1196. The bill prohibits agencies in the state from using the carotid restraint technique. Newsom said he will sign the bill once it gets to his desk. As of June 18, AB 1196 was amended in the Senate. To review the bill, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_AB1196.

“We train techniques on strangle holds that put people’s lives at risk,” Newsom said during the press conference. “Now we can argue that these are used as exceptions, but at the end of the day, a carotid hold that is literally designed to stop people’s blood from flowing into their brain – that has no place any longer in 21st century practices and policing. I am immediately directing POST, which is our police officers training, to end the training of that practice.”

Pleasanton Police Department (PPD) Chief David Swing last week noted his department temporarily suspended the use of the carotid hold, pending state legislation.

“We are developing a comprehensive online resource for our community to better understand our policies and some of the important nuances of community safety,” Swing said. “Additionally, the city will begin to host public meetings around community policing and what that specifically means for Pleasanton. Constructive dialogue is paramount, and we are committed to engaging with our community.”

Dublin did not appear on the #8CantWait list, as it’s a smaller city that contracts police services through the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO). But Dublin Police Services Chief Garrett Holmes indicated discussion to remove the carotid restraint from policy is underway for the ACSO as well.

According to the #8CantWait website, the Livermore Police Department (LPD) meets three of the eight reform policies, because current policy requires de-escalation, a warning before shooting and an officer’s duty to intervene should they witness another officer using unreasonable force. But as reported by Goard, some of the language gets blurry. For many of those reform items, he said they are already a component of the LPD’s policy, but not strictly mandated due to varying circumstances.

“If you’re being shot at, the expectation that you would first start with talking and then use your taser and then your baton is unrealistic,” he explained. “When feasible, policy says you shall exhaust all alternatives, but it doesn’t mandate it because of the situation I just described.”

Goard noted that training for LPD officers involves creating distance and dialogue. They also have a negotiation team in charge of communication that works with the patrol shift. In regard to the ban on shooting at moving vehicles, he said he believed LPD was in compliance with the meaning. However, it is not a strict mandate. He detailed a situation in which a car might begin plowing through a crowd or straight toward an officer, at which point, the immediate danger should be stopped.

“It’s highly discouraged because it’s rarely effective,” he said. “Policy says you make an effort to get out of the way, but if it’s your only opportunity to save yourself and others, it’s still permitted.”

Officers are not allowed to shoot at fleeing vehicles or with the intent to disable the vehicle.

Holmes agreed that maybe three or four of the #8CantWait guidelines came down to a matter of semantics, but noted he believed most California agencies, which tend to be progressive, are already in line with campaign’s call-outs for reform.

Alongside this discussion of policy reform is the matter of divesting police departments and investing in the community in the form of various social services. Both Goard and Holmes welcomed the concept of additional specialists to help, for example, in mental health crisis situations, but Holmes added some points to consider. He noted that it’s difficult to find mental health experts who are available to work alongside the 24/7 hours of a police department. Another point was that a person in need of care is not always simply a danger to themselves.

“A lot of times, we’re getting people who are trying to harm other family members or individuals, and you definitely need a police response for that,” Holmes said, adding even the fire department members won’t enter particular situations until the police have deemed it safe. “I think that we will probably find it could be similar for some of these crisis teams.”

However, Holmes noted the cycle of drug abuse and mental health crises to require ongoing services; officers oftentimes get caught in that cycle. He said he would like to see more of a symbiotic partnership and support for those individuals beyond calls for service.

“We could provide security while (the crisis teams) go to the scene, and our officers could see the different tactics used by these professionals,” he added. “I think it could be a great relationship, a great model we could have with those individuals. Police departments have been asking for this for years, and it’s been very challenging to get it.”

Goard also touched on the concern that police departments are conducting their own internal investigations of officers. Many have said that this process could lead to law enforcement turning a blind eye to poor behavior on a regular basis, creating a systemic issue.

“Ultimately, the city council and mayor are the oversight for the agency, and our team reports directly to them,” Goard said. “But in regard to us investigating ourselves, the only things the department is investigating are policy violations, and then the district attorney steps in to determine if it was lawful. We don’t investigate ourselves for criminal activity ... But I’ll be honest with you, no good cop wants a bad cop working with them; we don’t want those people in our profession. Are there mistakes that people make? Absolutely. But there’s no excuse for lying. There’s no excuse for excessive force.”

On their respective websites, the LPD and the PPD post annual reports, showcasing use of force alongside arrests and crime activity.

According to the LPD’s 2018 report, staff handled 65,676 calls for service and made 3,316 arrests. It had 77 reported uses of force by officers. The department received and investigated 13 formal complaints against personnel. Goard reported the publication of its most recent report was delayed due to COVID-19, but he added that the LPD had more than 67,000 calls for service and only 49 uses of force last year. LPD’s reports do not note if any arrest-related deaths occurred from use of force.

In Pleasanton, the 2019 report indicated that out of the 65,565 calls for service, 38 involved use of force — 28 of which were control holds, one kinetic energy device, one canine apprehension, five Safewraps and two carotid restraints. PPD’s reports also do not indicate arrest-related deaths. At least three arrest-related deaths have occurred in the city since 2015 – John Deming, 2015; Shannon Estil, 2017; and Jacob Bauer, 2018.

In conjunction with the city’s communications team, Dublin police services will soon roll out an annual report, Holmes said.

Goard further noted that while his department has a progressive approach to adopting new training in response to situations that evolve across the country, the topic of reform further enhances the opportunity to open communication between the public and officers.

Holmes agreed, stating, “We appreciate the community’s support and look forward to ongoing conversations.”