REDWOOD CITY (CBS SF) – Authorities in San Mateo County on Tuesday morning presented a possible change in its use of force policy including Tasers after three deadly incidents last year.
The sheriff’s office gave a report on the proposed revision of the use of force policy and other reforms during a San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting. It followed a study session in February on the use of Tasers.READ MORE: Napa Valley Grape Growers Say Dry Year Survivable But Fear Prolonged Drought
“It is probably the most up-to-date, progressive policy that I’ve seen on use of force,” said San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos.
The Tuesday morning draft policy presentation is still in the idea phase, but some critics said doesn’t go far enough.
The change proposed by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office comes following outcry over the death of Chinedu Okobi by Tasers last October.
Okobi, 36, was the third person in San Mateo County killed in an incident involving Tasers last year. He was stopped by sheriff’s deputies while walking on El Camino Real in Millbrae on Oct. 3.
The confrontation quickly escalated, with one officer using a Taser on Okobi multiple times and others taking him to the ground and hitting him with clubs and pepper spray. A pathologist found the Taser contributed to cardiac arrest.
The other incidents were in different law enforcement jurisdictions – Ramzi Saad was killed by Redwood City police in August and Warren Ragudo by Daly City police in January.
The main changes reforms being proposed include changing the wording from “active resistance” to “causing immediate physical injury or threatening to cause physical injury” when there is a reasonable belief a suspect will carry through.
Also, a person can only be Tased 3 times.
According to the Board of Supervisors agenda, Sheriff Bolanos is also adding automated external defibrillators to patrol vehicles, a reform advocated at February’s study session by Dr. Zian Tseng, who researches sudden cardiac death at the University of California at San Francisco.
However, there is a clause for “exceptional circumstances” which critics say needs to be more concrete.
“Otherwise you essentially don’t have a functional policy. You have a policy that’s followed unless,” said Tracy Rosenberg with Oakland Privacy.
The draft policy incorporates some recommendations from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, which was permitted to review the draft policy, wrote in a letter to county officials that some aspects of the policy do not go far enough and should consider anticipated changes in state law.READ MORE: Red Flag Warning Now in Effect for North and East Bay Hills Through Weekend
AB 392 has passed both houses of the state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom has publicly supported it. It would make the standard for police officers to use deadly force more stringent, allowing it only when “necessary to defend against an imminent threat of great bodily injury.”
The ACLU points out that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s draft policy still uses language that may soon be outdated, permitting deadly force when a deputy “reasonably believes” a suspect is an imminent threat.
“My people have to have the tools and the training and the opportunity to safeguard their own lives and the lives of the resident that we serve,” said Sheriff Bolanos at the meeting.
The policy also permits shooting at moving vehicles, a potentially dangerous practice that many experts recommend against. It was banned in most circumstances in San Francisco in 2016.
Regarding Tasers, ACLU of Northern California Criminal Justice Project Director Lizzie Buchen wrote “the draft policy continues to fall far short of what is necessary to prevent deaths from uses of Tasers.”
Specifically, Buchen said that the policy was too vague in describing the behavior when deputies would be permitted to use Tasers, calling on deputies to make a subjective assessment of what a person was thinking. Such assessments, Buchen argued, can lead to racial stereotyping.
Buchen also faulted the policy’s authorization for Taser use to “overcome active resistance,” which could potentially mean “grabbing a lamppost, going limp or grabbing onto a car steering wheel.”
The ACLU suggested using language similar to San Francisco’s recently adopted Taser policy, which allows for officers to use Tasers when a suspect is armed with a weapon other than a firearm, is causing immediate physical injury, or is violently resisting arrest.
The ACLU also called for more guidance to officers to use de-escalation techniques on people suffering mental illnesses, which included all four people killed in law enforcement encounters in San Mateo County last year.
Other best practices for dealing with people with mental illnesses include setting up a perimeter, calling in professionals trained in mental health issues and giving a person time and space to resolve a crisis, according to the ACLU.
The policies won’t be fleshed out for another month or so and will then need to approval of two sheriff’s office unions.
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