California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 8

For me, the difference in use-of-force cases is that not only are we evaluating the suspect’s actions, we are also reviewing the officers’ conduct and actions to determine if they are within department policy or if that action could rise to the level of criminal conduct. We do not normally allow suspects to view the video prior to being interviewed about their actions, so in my opinion to allow officers to do so compromises or damages the public’s trust and confidence in the investigative process. Q. As you noted, the department edited the video and audio together for the tape that was played at the pretrial hearing. What was your reaction, and reaction within the department, when you and others first saw and heard what had happened? A. The death of Kelly Thomas is a tragedy on many levels. It has been devastating for the Thomas family, our community, our police department and our city government. The results are far from over, but thus far a family has lost a son, a police chief has retired, and the reputation of a very good police department has been severely tarnished. Q. Does this case change how you respond to or deal with allegations of officer misconduct? If so, how? A. We have conducted an internal assessment of how we could respond differently and have made several changes, including additional supervisory oversight, new processes in actively auditing our personnel, and researching early warning and intervention processes to detect behaviors that are likely to lead to misconduct. In addition, we have hired Michael Gennaco from the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review to conduct a thorough assessment of our department’s policies, procedures and practices and then to make recommendations for improvement. Gennaco is still working on his report and we expect to receive it within the next month. In regards to responding to allegations of misconduct, we are making every effort possible within the boundaries of the law to respond to misinformation about alleged misconduct. This has included obtaining consent from officers to allow us to discuss an allegation and meeting with credible members of the media to have them listen to the audio recordings themselves before writing a story about the alleged misconduct. Q. Any other policy changes? A. In the past six months, we have made many. We have approved a new policy manual and placed a copy of it online for the public to review. Other changes include improved auditing requirements on all monies and narcotics booked as evidence, use-of-force training to include the legal, reasonable, ethical and moral decision-making process when using force, adding a chaplain program, mandatory monthly crime strategy meetings with supervisors, a new citizen complaint and auditing process, victim advocate ride-along program, and proposing a Chief’s Community Advisory Board. Q. How is the Fullerton Police Department restoring the public’s trust? A. The Fullerton Police Department has served this community for 124 years and we are very fortunate that the vast amount of our community members have trust and confidence in us, which is mandatory for a police department to be effective. With that said, it is evident we still have a lot of work to do to gain the trust of some segments of our community. We are committed to earning this trust. Some of the ways we are doing this is by reviewing our policies, procedures and practices to ensure that our officers are making the proper ethical decisions in the field. We need to be more transparent in our operations so our motives are not questioned. We have completely opened our department to our community and the media, where we take them to all areas of our police facility and explain the purpose of why we do what we do. We are attending community meetings, we have just completed a citizen’s academy, we are developing additional community partnerships, and we are communicating the changes we are making. We understand that building trusting relationships and partnering with our community is vital, and we are committed to doing a much better job at this. Q. What are you doing about morale? A. I believe we have some of the best officers and support staff in the state, and their commitment to conduct themselves honorably to our profession in the midst of what has occurred has been humbling and amazing. They have endured months of protests to the front of our police station, false allegations in the media, citizens screaming at them during public contacts, and comments on a local blog site designed to be critical of their every move. 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