By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – The city released the findings from their first ever use-of-force audit and were generally pleased with the results. The city and police auditor of course want to trumpet the findings of the auditor’s report that showed use of force in Davis to be well below state average.
Good news—but not surprising.
As I have pointed out a number of times, use of force by the Davis Police Department is not the complaint I have registered and not the complaint I have heard in my 15-plus years of doing this.
Over the years the primary complaint that I have heard about DPD is racial profiling and police stops, not excessive force. The data released last year bears that out—the Davis Police Department stops Black people, in particular, at a disproportionate rate that is well above the state average.
Moreover, if we drill down into this particular audit, the findings are not nearly as rosy as perhaps the headline indicates.
The report also highlights seven cases that involved the use of force by DPD. The auditor, Mike Gennaco, said last night that all were within department regulations.
This is where it gets fuzzy.
Take Case 2, for example, which would have parallels to George Floyd but for the fact that the person involved did not die.
“As a result of a court order, access to information relating to this use of force has been limited. The responding officers used their body weight to take the resisting individual into custody. One officer placed his knee near or on the subject’s neck, above the shoulders and directly below the head,” Grennaco wrote. “This use of force was found to be ‘in policy’ by DPD supervisors.”
But, later in the report, we find out that this incident was pre-George Floyd.
This case occurred “before the new DPD policy prohibiting neck restraints was enacted and, more notably, before the murder of George Floyd, which brought attention to the issue of placing knees and/or body weight on the neck, and subsequent changes to state law banning all neck holds.”
That is important because regulations changed. Gennaco never evaluated whether it would be currently within regulation—and I’m guessing that it was not.
I was just in Stockton on Tuesday covering a lawsuit filed in the Shayne Sutherland, case where he did die from positional asphyxiation.
New state law restricts police officers from using asphyxiation technique in order to subdue someone.
Civil Rights Attorney James DeSimone pointed out, “This has been something that’s been well-known when you have someone handcuffed, you cannot apply pressure to their neck, their hat, they’re struggling breathing anyway. And there’s just no reason to do it.”
So the state law had not caught up to police practices here, but what Case 2 shows is that Davis was doing the same kind of practices that all departments were doing—they were just fortunate enough that, in their cases, the people involved did not die.
The case in the motel is also instructive. Clearly, the man there needed to have a mental health professional arrive at the scene, but darn it, “Since this incident occurred in the early morning hours, a mental health clinician would not have been available to respond as Davis does not have mental health professionals available around the clock.”
So instead the police attempt to first talk him down, and then when that didn’t work after apparently a few minutes, per the description, the officers decided to use force.
Again, the result was that they used a Taser and applied force. Because things went fairly smoothly and no one died, the incident is being reviewed from this vantage point.
But, in effect, the police used a hammer when a screwdriver was the tool that was needed. Because they did not have such a tool available, they used their hammer and this time, fortunately, it worked.
This screams for a Crisis NOW approach—which is coming.
Another problem that is evident—the standard of reviewing these use-of-force cases is fairly low. I only looked at two of them closely, but both are kind of questionable. In one case the force use is probably now illegal and, in the other, another approach would have been optimal.
Yet, they both fell within compliance. The same could be said for the few other use-of-force cases we have reviewed over the years.
For example, in the Glacier Point incident the officer was severely reprimanded and ultimately fired from the department for his handling of the case. They found that he arrived too hot, used his Taser on two college students and basically acted improperly. But, at the same time, the use-of-force complaint was not sustained (other complaints were sustained).
In the Picnic Day incident the police were faulted for their handling of the incident, but the use-of-force complaint was not sustained.
The incident that we reported on that involved Ryan Bellamy punching a suspect in the face multiple times—there was no sustained use-of-force complaint.
Given just these three examples—the state of California has revised use of force in some areas, particularly the use of deadly force and some types of force such as carotid control holds. But they have left open a whole range of force options so long as they don’t result in death.
So, in the end, the city and some police defenders will trumpet the low use-of-force findings. But perhaps the real result is that Davis benefits from operating in a relatively low crime environment—violent crime is extremely low and the vast majority of crime is property crime that does not result in direct interactions between police and suspected offenders.
Moreover, they have been fortunate not only with a low number of encounters but that the few encounters they have had have not resulted in death or serious bodily injury to police or members of the public.
In my view, that should not be interpreted as the police force in Davis performing their job better than other departments. Indeed, when you examine the two incidents highlighted in the recent report, you recognize that the police handled these little differently from any other department—they simply were fortunate enough to get a good result.