The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon to adopt a proposal requiring the Sheriff's Office to implement several policy reforms and consider other recommendations in an effort to reduce police violence and excessive use of force.
In a 5-0 vote, the board agreed to policy changes mirroring the 8 Can't Wait campaign aimed to reduce police violence. The guidelines include prohibiting the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints, giving a verbal warning prior to the use of deadly force and requiring officers to stop their colleagues from using excessive force, among other recommendations.
"I frankly find these relatively common sense on their face," Supervisor Joe Simitian, who authored the proposal, said during the board's virtual meeting.
In a memo to the board, Sheriff Laurie Smith said that her office is already in line with the eight policies.
Chokeholds and strangleholds, for example, were always prohibited by the agency, the memo said. Carotid restraints were more recently voted to be removed as a "less lethal option" from the office's policy and state-mandated training, though the restraint is allowed "in rare, life and death circumstances where deadly force is justified." (Smith said that the policy on carotid restraints will go into effect on July 12.)
"It would be helpful to have the actual policies and the other materials that are described by the sheriff as being responsive to the referral clearly identified and reproduced so that the community and the folks at our Office of Correction Law Enforcement Monitoring (OCLEM) can analyze the degree to which the materials do or don't accomplish the objectives set out in the referral," Simitian said in response.
Simitian's request gained support from Michael Gennaco, project manager of OIR Group, the independent police oversight firm that heads OCLEM and serves as Palo Alto's police auditor.
Simitian made additional recommendations beyond the 8 Can't Wait policies, including requiring the Sheriff's Office to release a public list of all "lethal and less-lethal armaments" currently owned by the agency. Smith agreed and said they will review methods to share this information to the public.
Another proposal was to limit the Sheriff's Office's procurement of "military-style" weapons and equipment. In the memo, Smith said that her agency "does not procure military-specific equipment; however, we do strongly believe in providing our first responders with the appropriate safety equipment and training to protect themselves and our community from harm."
The memo cited shootings at the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival and a cement plant in Cupertino in 2011 as incidents where "proper equipment" were required, but didn't explicitly mention military equipment.
One recommendation that had unanimous and enthusiastic approval among board members and the Sheriff's Office was the restructuring of the county's emergency response system. This includes providing appropriate resources and staff, other than law enforcement officers, who can respond to calls related to mental health emergencies or homeless individuals.
"I have been a long advocate of additional mental health services, especially in the field," Smith said. "(Homelessness) coupled with mental health — those are areas that law enforcement really does not belong in ... I have long said that jail is not the place for people who have mental health issues or people who are homeless."
Though members of the public largely lauded the county's efforts to push for police reform, some voiced that Simitian's proposals were not enough to instill change within the Sheriff's Office and the county at large.
Jeremy Barousse, director of civic engagement at Services Immigrant Rights and Education Work, urged that the board also consider a significant budget reduction in the agency, along with the proposed policy changes.
Eli Dinh, a San Jose resident and kindergarten teacher, called for three initiatives: suspend paid administrative leave for police under investigation; withhold pensions and don't rehire officers involved in excessive-force cases; and require officers to handle their own misconduct settlements.
"Your proposals are toothless, you're missing the point," Dinh said. "We don't want police reform, we want police abolition."
Local and national calls for the significant overhaul of law enforcement agencies come in the wake of George Floyd's death while in custody of Minneapolis police. Along with the 8 Can't Wait policies, many have protested to “defund the police," a rallying call to redirect funds away from police departments and into community services.
Floyd's death has also become a springboard for broader calls to recognize and root out systemic and institutionalized racism.
"I want to be mindful and clear-headed about the fact that, while we have to do our part, our board is probably not going to be able to solve the challenges of institutional racism in a week, or month, or a year or longer," Simitian said. "But what we can do, what we should do, what we have the opportunity to do, and what I would argue we have the obligation to do, is to step up and do something that is real and tangible and that will save lives, that will reduce the adverse impacts on people of color and those who are disadvantaged in some other way and that we need to do now."