Davis Police Auditor Report Shows Poorly Handled Community Interactions by DPD

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The Davis Police Department received a series of complaints from a Davis resident about the way in which the department handled complaints in an assault/vandalism investigation in which his sister was the victim.

In response, the Independent Police Auditor, Michael Gennaco, collected police reports and body worn camera footage and released the findings in his July 2020 auditor report.

The police were called to the scene after an individual used a crowbar to inflict significant damage on a vehicle belonging to the sister of the complainant, smashing many of the windows of the car.

When the sister and her boyfriend found the man in the process of vandalizing her vehicle, the man began shooting at the two with a pellet gun.

Upon arrival, the boyfriend fled the scene.

Officer: Can we tell the truth for just a few seconds? Can I tell you what I just saw from that car?

Sister: What?

Officer: That is very clear; just not trying to take anything, just trying to break stuff. So tell me what you did to him to make him do that. Were you dating him? Is he an ex-boyfriend?

Writes Gennaco: “This exchange between the victim and the officer is not how one would expect an officer to respond to a person who has just observed her vehicle’s windows being smashed out by a known assailant and who then proceeds to shoot at her with a pellet gun.”

Gennaco finds the questioning troublesome in two respects.

First, when the officer asked the victim to “tell the truth for a few seconds,” “there was no reason to disbelieve the victim’s account.”

Furthermore, Gennaco writes, “More troublesome was the officer’s representation to the victim that the victim must have done something to him to ‘make him do that,’ suggesting that it was somehow the victim’s fault that caused the man to commit felony vandalism on her vehicle and then assault her.”

Gennaco notes that, as the encounter continued, “the officer’s tone and approach with the victim softens somewhat and it becomes more akin to an officer/victim interview.”

However, at this point, “even then the officer does not display a great deal of empathy toward the victim, particularly when asking her whether she wants to move forward on charges against her assailant.”

He concludes: “All in all, the victim interview on the sidewalk is not exemplary of a sympathetic police officer engaging a woman who had just been the victim of felony vandalism and assault.”

Gennaco would normally recommend that the department review the body camera footage with the responding officer to discuss how this could have been handled better, but he “has been informed that the officer is no longer with DPD.”

In a second incident there is a complaint about the handling of a theft investigation, in which a woman reported that she had left her wallet in the dashboard of an unattended van parked in the lot of a commercial establishment.

The police received a report that there was a recording that showed a male and female walk by the van which had its windows open.

According to the officer’s report, “the video further depicted the couple appears to peer into the van as they walked toward a vehicle parked next to it that appeared to be a car known to be owned by the boyfriend.”

However the recording ended before showing anyone in the act of taking an item from the van.

The complainant alleged that during the investigation, “DPD police lied to his sister about video evidence to obtain an admission from her.” The body worn camera footage shows the officer “repeatedly told the sister that there was a video of her and her boyfriend taking the wallet from the van, even though he had not yet reviewed what the video depicted.”

Gennaco writes: “A review of the encounter clearly demonstrates repeated attempts by the officer to obtain an admission of culpability from the sister, but as indicated in the police report, she did not admit or deny that she was involved in taking the wallet from the van.”

Furthermore, “During the interview, the mother of the sister informed the officer that as a result of past encounters the family had ‘zero trust’ in the police. While the officer told the sister that he would show her the video if she liked, when the mother indicated that she would like to see the video the officer said he would not do so.”

The family obtained an attorney who ultimately learned that the video did not show either of them taking the wallet and DPD did not pursue charges.

Gennaco notes: “Under the law, police can use ruses and exaggerate or mischaracterize evidence as part of a strategy to gain admissions from suspects. While the technique is legal, a growing number of criminal justice reformers question whether such strategies are generally advisable.”

He notes that “when the ruse does not work and the individual the ruse is used upon learns that the information alleged by the police was not accurate, it results in increased distrust of law enforcement by those upon whom the tactic is used.”

Gennaco here is critical because, as he writes, “it appears that the officer did not even know the strength of the video evidence against the sister prior to visiting her. Basic principles of investigation teach officers to review evidence prior to interviewing potential subjects but this was not done in this case.”

He adds, “As it turned out, by mischaracterizing the strength of the evidence against the sister, the officer did not obtain an admission from her and only increased the alienation and mistrust the family had in its police department after they learned that the video did not depict what the officer had said it did.”

He continues: “This result calls for re-examination for this officer in particular and DPD in general about the advisability of mischaracterizing incriminatory evidence during subject interviews.”

Once again, the officer is no longer with the department.

Finally there was an incident where the complainant alleged he was walking through a Davis neighborhood when he and his girlfriend heard a woman screaming. They called 911, stayed in the area, but never observed the police respond to the call.

A few days later, a DPD officer visited the family to talk with the complainant’s sister about her involvement in an alleged theft (the one detailed above).

As the officer was leaving the call, the complainant asked if he could discuss his concern about the alleged failure to respond to the call. The officer told the complainant “no, I am not here for you,” and walked away.

Later, the officer and another officer returned to the residence to investigate an alleged hit and run involving the sister.

The officer said that he did not know anything about it and that he could not begin to answer the question. The partner officer did engage the mother and complainant about their concern about the failure to respond to the 911 call. The officer said that “under current staffing, there were often only three officers to patrol the entire city.”

The partner officer said that he did not agree with “a lot of things that we do” but reiterated that he did not know the circumstances regarding the allegation of failing to respond to a 911 call.

A review by Gennaco found that DPD did respond to the 911 call. Two officers had parked down the street, walked to the residence where the woman said that she had gotten into a verbal dispute with her boyfriend and had been screaming as a result. The female no longer wanted to stay at her boyfriend’s residence and one of the responding officers then drove her to a relative’s house in Davis.

Writes Gennaco, “A review of the body worn camera footage also demonstrated a professionally handled defusing of a domestic situation and a sensible resolution to the conflict. While the handling of the underlying call was textbook, the officers’ response to the complainant was not.”

As Gennaco puts it, while the officers were there for other reasons, when an individual raises another issue, the response should not be “I am not here for you.”

The appropriate response would have been, “I really cannot respond to your question, but I can certainly contact a supervisor about your concern and ensure that he responds to them.”

Nor “was it appropriate for the partner officer to attempt to explain why officers may not have responded to the domestic violence call for several reasons.”

First, “the complainant was incorrect that officers had not responded to the call.”

Second, “it was really not the officers’ role to attempt to explain why there had been no response, especially when the officers had no first-hand knowledge of the situation.”

Writes Gennaco: “This again, is why the best response would have been to alert a supervisor to the complaint so that it could be handled by someone who could investigate the concern.”

Finally, “it was inappropriate for the partner officer to inform the complainant that he did not agree with a lot of things DPD did to ensure officer safety and reduce use of force.”

Genacco concludes: “The series of interactions reviewed here evidenced both optimal handling of a call for service and other communications that did not rise to the level of a need for a formal investigation and discipline but was more appropriate for a ‘course correction.'”

For the full report see here.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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43 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    So basically out of all the tens of thousands of calls and interactions that the DPD deals with there’s a whole lot of nothing going wrong.  Seriously, if this is the worst that detractors can come up with I think it’s time to admit Davis has a pretty good police force.

    1. David Greenwald

      You’re assuming that’s the sum total of everything going on? The biggest complaint I hear over and over again doesn’t generally result in complaints – DWBs. We have that data now. That’s a big problem.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Nope, there’s no praise of the DPD allowed to go unchallenged on the Vanguard.  The Vanguard can always find something.  Maybe sometime look for all the thousands of good things they do instead of only reporting on their few missteps?

        1. David Greenwald

          That gets back to your 99 percent comment from the other day. The purpose of oversight is to catch mistakes being made. This particular metric isn’t catching those because traffic stops for example, aren’t generating complaints. If you want to praise the department – shouldn’t it be accurate?

    2. Tia Will

      Keith

      Your comment makes the assumption that these 3 instances are all the inappropriate interactions that occur. I can assure you, they are not. About 12 years ago, I had an extremely unpleasant interaction with a member of the police department who treated me as the criminal for requesting my cell phone be returned to me. Yes, I did pound on a door, but I think it highly unlikely, once the officer saw me, that he could have mistaken me for a viciously threatening assailant. Since I got my phone back, I dropped the incident, but it did nothing for my trust in the police. I suspect these incidents also occur with greater frequency than we ever hear about.

       

  2. John Hobbs

    I must have done something right. In 67 years I have had many encounters with police, sometimes confrontational and in all that time received one ticket, deserved, for failure to signal a lane change. In Davis, in particular, I have been downright harsh in my criticism to a couple of cops and been totally ignored while they ran my black friend’s license for wants and warrants. I sure being white had nothing to do with it. (Not)

    1. Alan Miller

      (Not)

      (Not)(Not)

      Who’s there?

      Assumed Racism . . .

      Assumed racism who?

      Assumed Racism every time it doesn’t involve a white person.

      (That’s . . . . . who)

  3. Tia Will

    “has been informed that the officer is no longer with DPD.”

    Which begs the question of, “where is this officer employed now?”

    To me, he either needs extensive retraining or perhaps a different job. My reasons:

    1. Assumption the witness/victim is lying. Is it not the job of the police to investigate, not judge?

    2. Place the blame for the actions of the perpetrator on the victim. While the article does not provide the gender of the officer, I am willing to bet “he” would be the appropriate pronoun.  The “what did you do to make him do it” is so classic a trope of a segment of our male-dominant culture as to have been caricatured many, many times.

    3. A complete lack of either empathy or even neutrality.

    Regardless of whether or not you believe most of the police force does a good job, which I fail to see how anyone can judge based on a couple of traffic stops, surely all of us could agree that this is not the kind of behavior we would hope to encounter if we ever call for help. Do we not want to know if it is an isolated behavior or a systemic problem? Would we rather just pretend we know?

    1. John Hobbs

       

       

      Tia, we know and have known for decades. The police view “civilians” as the enemy.
      Years ago they adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.
      They believe the world is a profoundly dangerous place: They are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger. They believe that the only way to guarantee their survival is to dominate the citizens, not to protect. They believe they’re alone in this fight, that officers are under siege. Those beliefs, along with widely held social stereotypes, push officers toward violent behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.
      This begins with the candidate selection process (low empathy, high aggression and limited IQ) and is constantly reinforced through training and peer pressure.

      1. Bill Marshall

        They believe the world is a profoundly dangerous place: They are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger.

        And theirs, and the community at large… you are correct… by nature and/or nurture, many (not all) see the “profoundly dangerous place”… too many of those attribute that danger to specific groups, classes of people… without true justification… whether by race, ethnicity, religion, economic status…

        A survival mantra, is “prepare for the worst, expect the best”… darn good advice… IF and ONLY IF one follows both clauses... many in law enforcement (and elsewhere in society) forget the second part… why ‘de-escalation’ is often forgotten.

        There are also those who only focus on the second clause… they are misguided, too, but more likely to be a risk to themselves, not so much others…

  4. Bill Marshall

    Bottom line KO… were they reasonable stops?  Had an infraction occurred?  There are few, but GLARING accounts, that were not reasonable… THAT is the problem… heck, my nordic-looking son and his white friend were pulled over and asked by a Davis ‘cop’ [think I know who, but the jerk is no longer with DPD] about a bank robbery where both suspects were described as Black!

    Same son was pulled over for no reason, on a false basis… DWYM (driving while young male)… so that informs me that DWB is a real issue, a pretext stop, that shouldn’t be happening… in neither event was my son doing anything untoward… I may not feel as strongly as John H (different experiences) but I feel his experiences and concerns are valid… to compare those with legitimate stops, where observable infractions took place… apples and armadillos… mighty ‘white’ of you to compare the two, if they indeed happened…

     

  5. David Greenwald

    A point that has gotten lost here.  One of the incidents involved an officer lying to the witness in order to attempt to gain a confession.

    The auditor points out that this is legal but a lot of reformers including myself have a huge problem with the practice.  He also pointed out that it has huge consequences including undermining trust in the police.

    It’s rare to get caught do that – just as it’s rare to get caught testilying per my commentary this weekend.  I view these reports less as a sum total of complaints and more of an example of what the police are probably doing a lot but rarely get caught.

    1. Keith Olsen

       I view these reports less as a sum total of complaints and more of an example of what the police are probably doing a lot but rarely get caught.

      Evidence please.

    2. Ron Oertel

      It’s rare to get caught do that – 

      It’s legal, as you noted.

      I don’t like it either, but it might be effective (e.g., when the police suspect someone).

      Hey, if you’re telling the truth – it ultimately won’t matter.  And maybe, you’ll ultimately understand why it’s done, without taking it “personally”.

      But it certainly doesn’t leave one with a “warm and fuzzy” feeling, unless (perhaps) it’s acknowledged when the truth arises.

       

      1. David Greenwald

        Gennaco notes: “Under the law, police can use ruses and exaggerate or mischaracterize evidence as part of a strategy to gain admissions from suspects. While the technique is legal, a growing number of criminal justice reformers question whether such strategies are generally advisable.”

        He notes that “when the ruse does not work and the individual the ruse is used upon learns that the information alleged by the police was not accurate, it results in increased distrust of law enforcement by those upon whom the tactic is used.”

        “Hey, if you’re telling the truth – it ultimately won’t matter. ”

        You’re extraordinarily wrong on this point.  One of the problems when police lie is it can actually cause people who are innocent to falsely confess.  This is part of what happened in the Central Park 5 case.

        1. Bill Marshall

          I cannot grok why an innocent person would confess to a police officer’s claim that he/she has video evidence, or otherwise lies… must be a lot of stupid, and/or easily suggestible folk… think Darwin…

        2. Ron Oertel

          I meant to say that if you’re telling the truth to the police (and haven’t committed a crime), it ultimately won’t matter.

          You’re referring to an intensive interrogation of juveniles, back at the police station (without representation).  As a result, they “lied” about their involvement (which resulted in self-implication).

          I recall seeing reports that some of those juveniles were engaged in a different crime (basing that on memory).

           

          1. David Greenwald

            That’s one example – false confesions, as the link I posted for Bill notes, happen more than you think.

            “I recall seeing reports that some of those juveniles were engaged in a different crime (basing that on memory).”

            There is no evidence to support that. That’s what some of the defenders of the police through out there as defense.

        3. Ron Oertel

          That’s what some of the defenders of the police through out there as defense.

          Maybe.  I recall seeing some PBS program on this entire case, but don’t recall all of the details.

          But apparently, there’s evidence (one might say “proof”) that they were innocent of the crime that they were convicted of.

          I recall that Trump didn’t help the situation, to say the least.  And, still hasn’t acknowledged that.

        4. David Greenwald

          There’s evidence alright – the guy who did it, left his DNA in her, admitted to it, admitted he did it alone and physical evidence at the scene supported a single person theory and the confessions were filled with huge factual errors that the police should have picked up on originally.

          1. David Greenwald

            “According to the Innocence Project, 25% of DNA exonerated individuals who were wrongly convicted made a false confession or admission. Under the right conditions even you could falsely confess to a crime. As in the case of Marty Tankleff police are allowed to lie about the presence of eyewitness, snitch, and scientific evidence. Those same officers can give you a polygraph and tell you the outcome is failure, even when you didn’t”

          1. David Greenwald

            The research says otherwise. You haven’t been in a 15 hour interrogation with the lies and promises, no attorney, no food, no break.

  6. Ron Oertel

    David: “There’s no evidence of that”.

    I don’t know if there is or not, but here’s the first article that popped up:

    One spring evening in 1989, a group of around 30 teenagers were hanging out in Central Park, New York. Some of them were causing serious trouble – including badly hurting others in the park and harassing homeless people.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-48609693

    But, it’s certainly not very “specific” as to who did what.

    And ultimately, it’s not a “reason” to convict someone of a crime they didn’t commit.

    I do recall that (at that time), the public was sick-and-tired of violent crime in New York.  And, I wouldn’t be surprised if the public “mood” shifts again, at some point.

    Videos can work “both ways”.

    1. Bill Marshall

      The research says otherwise. You haven’t been in a 15 hour interrogation with the lies and promises, no attorney, no food, no break.
      Read this Bill: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vdqewd/why-police-interrogations-lead-to-so-many-false-confessions

      As I was not a subject of the research, it does not apply to me.  I was answering for myself.  It is the height (or nadir) of hubris to say what I would do, even under those circumstances.  I have been falsely accused of a crime… while it is true I had no 15 hour interrogation, had I been subject to that, I would not have confessed to it.  Maybe you would.  Not me.

      How dare you presume to tell me what I would do?

      Yeah, you hit a ‘nerve’…

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