A few weeks ago the Vanguard reported on complaints that Dr. Khoa Lam had in encounters with two residents of Moore Apartments in Davis which ultimately led to the police being called.
Among his complaints was the rather dismissive attitude that police officers had when they responded to the call—an issue that Davis Police Chief Pytel highlighted in a letter to Dr. Lam dated July 22.
Chief Pytel noted that the July 10 incident “offers valuable learning opportunities to those involved, and our community at large.
“It’s unfortunate that it comes at your expense,” the Chief writes. “I do apologize for that.”
Dr. Lam had told the Vanguard that on July 10, he had been Facetiming with his wife in the parking lot of the Moore Apartments in Davis where his parents reside, and he was confronted by a woman.
“She said something like ‘you can’t be walking around here.’” She added, he said, “You don’t belong here.”
“What?” he said. “I’m visiting family.”
The encounter, caught on video, escalated, but the lady exited the scene. A man then confronted Dr. Lam and, after an exchange, ultimately called the police.
Dr. Lam had just finished his fellowship in neuroradiology at the University of Washington at Seattle. He completed that work and had just landed a job in Dallas, TX, where he starts on August 3. In between, he has spent two weeks in Davis.
He came to the U.S. in 2000 from Vietnam, coming to Sacramento for a few years and moving to Davis a few years later.
Chief Pytel, having watched the body cam video of the encounter, noted, “Upon initial contact it was clear you were visibly upset because someone had called the police when, as it turns out, you were doing nothing more than talking on the phone.”
He added, “Although the officers did not know this, you did. It was apparent you wanted to fully explain what had happened, but that didn’t occur.”
The chief said that the police could have “devoted more time to active listening,” writing, “This would have also allowed you to clearly articulate why you believed there was bias involved.”
The chief continues: “A fundamental teaching of Procedural Justice (Principled Policing) provides that officers should allow for ‘Opportunities for Voice’ and ‘Fairness in the Process.’ That was not afforded to you when it should have been.”
The chief continues: “A very important part of conflict resolution, especially when a person is faced with a police encounter where no actual crime was committed, is to acknowledge any harm caused and offer an apology.”
He added, “I understand why this entire situation caused you distress and harm. The officers could have acknowledged that and they didn’t. They should have.”
The chief noted that an officer “attempted to use some degree of humor. While humor can be an effective tool in some circumstances, it must be used very carefully and sparingly. Clearly, you interpreted the officer’s humor as sarcasm. In the context of this event, humor should have been avoided; a more sympathetic tone should have been used.”
In addition, he acknowledged, “One of the officers gave the appearance that she lacked patience with you. A resemblance of understanding, sympathy and acknowledgement of harm and feelings should have been afforded.”
Furthermore, “It was clear you interpreted statements by the officers as threats. Requests are better than orders and their expressions came across as orders with consequences. That shouldn’t have been done. Further, both officers could have at least tried to work through the issue.”
Chief Pytel added, “There are many times that calls to the police later result in subsequent discovery of legitimate behavior misinterpreted by another. Humiliation, frustration, and anger are all common emotions in these circumstances. I have no doubt that this was an emotional and unsettling event for you. In the end, perfectly legal behavior resulted in a police contact, which was entirely unwanted by you.”
He concluded with an acknowledgment of “bias-by-proxy.”
Chief Pytel said, “Officers are familiar with the issue, but, as we spoke about, there haven’t been good training programs developed on the issue. Prior to this event I had already tasked two managers with developing a course on bias-by-proxy. This event serves as a reminder of how important it is to develop the curriculum, with urgency, and ensure that all Department members receive the training. We will be doing that very soon.”