All of the county’s four city police agencies—and the Sheriff’s Office—have similar policies when it comes to use of force and releasing of information to the public, according to a report released in November by the Criminal Justice Council of Santa Cruz County.
The report—thought to be the first of its kind nationwide—examined policies and procedures of Capitola, Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Scotts Valley police departments, in addition to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department.
The main takeaway, according to Sheriff Jim Hart, is that most departments’ policies are aligned with each other, which he says is a rarity among counties and a sign that the county’s law enforcement model is on the right track.
“You don’t see many or any other counties where all of the police agencies are able to come to the table and have this level of agreement on policies,” Hart says. “It’s a very unique situation that we have here, and I think it serves our people well.”
According to the report, all the law enforcement agencies prohibit controversial tactics such as chokeholds, as well as neck and carotid restraints. All are required to use de-escalation techniques before using force, and require “less-lethal” force before using deadly force. In addition, all require a warning before lethal force when it is safe to do so.
While only some departments have dedicated units with mental health workers paired with officers, all would support efforts to create such a unit.
The report also shows that only Santa Cruz Police Department reports complaints against its officers to the public or elected officials and that Capitola and Scotts Valley police departments do not publish public requests for information under the public records act.
All, however, release footage from officer-worn body cameras in officer-involved shootings.
The report also looked at which agencies have independent auditors, or any other type of independent oversight, and found that only SCPD has either.
None use facial recognition technology, and all say they require implicit bias training for their officers.
Only Scotts Valley does not have policies in place regarding the acquisition of surveillance technology. Chief Steve Walpole explained that the small department has not yet had the funds to purchase such technology, and that it would develop policies before that occurred.
“I was proud of the work everyone did,” Walpole says of the report. “It was open and honest. All of us in the law enforcement community have to work together to do their job. There is not one agency that can do everything they need to do without the help of other agencies.”
Supervisor Zach Friend—who chairs the CJC—called the report “in-depth analysis of local police agency policies and procedures—in particular around use-of-force.”
The purpose, Friend says, is to see where there is alignment, where there are gaps and where there are opportunities to improve.
He adds that the goal is not to necessarily have a standardized set of policies across jurisdictions.
“Local agencies and the communities they serve may have reasons why they have specific policies, don’t have specific policies or have policies that differ from other agencies within the county,” he says. “The CJC focuses discussions on prevention and intervention as well as reentry programs—rather than simply a suppression model.”
The council, for example, has held a conference on the role of women and girls in gangs and worked with school districts, nonprofits and others on intervention and prevention programs to reduce youth involvement in gangs in general.
The CJC is made up of local police chiefs, the county sheriff, the chief probation officer, the district attorney, leadership of two local nonprofits, two local judges, the public defender and the county superintendent of schools, among others.
Next year, the focus will be exclusively on behavioral health and the criminal justice system, Friend says.
To see the report, visit bit.ly/3GJC2BN.